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Commons Chamber

Volume 130: debated on Thursday 31 March 1988

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House Of Commons

Thursday 31 March 1988

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Fish Farms (Pollution)

1.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his Department has commissioned any studies to examine the extent of pollution caused by fish farms; and if he will make a statement.

The Minster of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

The effect of fish farm effluent is kept under review by the Fisheries Departments and recent studies have pointed to a significant decline in the quantity of waste discharged per tonne of fish produced.

Is the Minister aware that several recent reports have claimed that highly polluted water from fish farms is threatening the survival of some of the native species of fish in our rivers, such as the brown trout? Is he satisfied that the procedures for monitoring the discharges from fish farms are working efficiently? If not, will he set up an inquiry into that matter?

I am satisfied that the procedures are working satisfactorily. As I have said, recent studies suggest that there has been a significant decline in the quantities of waste discharged per tonne of fish produced. We are looking carefully at the matter and are examining one or two specific cases. For example, the Wessex water authority and the Department of the Environment have been trying to deal with the problems that appear to have affected wild fish stocks on the Avon. However, we are sure that things are working reasonably well elsewhere.

Will my right hon. Friend take particular care to ensure that the procedures are not administered in a too discriminating and over-robust manner? Is he aware that fish farming — including crayfish and other crustaceous fish production — is a very important and growing industry which should not be damaged by excessive zeal by anyone imposing the procedures to which he referred?

I agree that fish farming is a very important industry. However, we must ensure that the industry does not badly affect the quality of the water in our rivers. We must keep an eye on the industry, but I agree that we must not do that in a way that makes people feel that they are being harried.

Is the Minister confident that the ban on the anti-foulant tributyl tin, which is used in fish farms, is effective and that no outlet for the chemical exists through wholesalers? How should fish farms dispose of any stocks of that chemical? What advice is being offered to those fish farms on disposal methods?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Ministry took the lead in trying to do something about tributyl tin and the problems that we discovered in our research into sex changes among some molluscs and other small animals, which may have been of particular interest to other molluscs and small animals. The hon. Lady will understand that the particular cases to which she is referring are largely within the purview of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I will ensure that he gives an answer to the hon. Lady on the specific cases to which she has referred.

The Opposition welcome the growth and development of fish farming. A commitment was given by the Government at the recent ministerial conference on the North sea to the precautionary principle applied to pollution of the marine environment. What provisions are made to monitor routinely the use of chemicals used by fish farmers? Is there any provision within the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 to restrict or ban the use of Nuvan 500 EC by fish farmers? Is Nuvan not as dangerous to the marine environment as TBT anti-fouling paint?

The hon. Gentleman will accept that I might have looked at his specific example if he had asked me to do so. However, we take great care about fish farms, not only with regard to the chemicals that are used. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we also consider the problems of water abstraction licensing, and that is another area that we have to watch very carefully. We have already undertaken to amend the Control of Pollution Act 1974 in that direction. I will certainly look at the specific cases that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Foodstuffs (Radioactivity)

2.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any plans to change the levels of radioactivity permitted in foodstuffs exported from, and imported into, Britain and the EEC.

11.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what were the permitted radioactivity levels following the Chernobyl accident for the import and export of foodstuffs in Britain and other EEC countries; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Donald Thompson)

Good morning, Mr. Speaker.

I have no plans to change present national arrangements regarding radioactivity levels in foodstuffs imported into or exported from this country.

Following Chernobyl, maximum permitted radiocaesium levels for Community imports of foodstuffs from all third countries were set at 370 bq/kg for milk and babyfood and 600 bq/kg for other foods. Those levels remain unchanged. No comparable legislative measures were adopted governing either intra-Community trade or exports. Changes in EC arrangements are, of course, a matter for the European Community.

Good morning, Mr. Speaker.

I am grateful to the Minister for that full reply, and I am sure that the information that he gave will be useful to many people. But is he aware that there are reports from many Third world countries that they have received consignments, especially of dried milk powder, which exceed those levels; that, despite that, pressure has been exerted on those countries to accept the consignments; and that some consignments have been returned to Britain? Will the Minister look into the matter to see whether the reports are true? If they are, where are those consignments stored and what will be their future use?

I would understand the hon. Gentleman's concern if what he said had any basis in fact. No Third world country has registered any protest —[Interruption.] I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question as gently as I can, and we shall see what he makes of it after I have finished.

No Third world country has registered any imports from the United Kingdom that are above the EC recommended levels. There were two prongs to the hon. Gentleman's question: first, materials going to the Third world in aid; and, secondly, materials going to the Third world in normal trading patterns. There is no doubt that, at first, in the normal trading patterns some of our customers were reluctant to accept goods from Europe and the United Kingdom. That reluctance has been overcome. As the hon. Gentleman said, there has been much publicity about goods going in aid to the Third world. I shall consider any documents or evidence that the hon. Gentleman may have, but at present it seems that that charge cannot be laid at our door.

The Minister probably knows that a consignment of EEC food aid to Mexico was traced to the Irish Republic and accepted back by the Irish Republic after complaints from Mexico. Although, as the Minister said, Britain has not been a source of over-contaminated food, does he agree that it reflects badly on the EEC as a whole? Did the Minister see early-day motion 733, which brought these matters to the attention of the House, and did he discuss them with those responsible during his visit to Brussels earlier this week?

I agree with the hon. Lady that the United Kingdom's record in these matters is remarkably good and should be a model—[Interruption.] I would have agreed with the hon. Lady had she said that. Since Chernobyl, the United Kingdom's record has been remarkably good. I am as worried as the hon. Lady is that the good name of the European Community will be spoilt by such incidents. It reflects badly not only on aid but on trade, and that is bad for all of us.

Is the Minister aware that my constituency is still suffering from the effects of the Chernobyl accident and that it is affecting sheep production in the mountainous areas? Given recent reports of the slow breakdown of radioactive materials, especially in peat vegetation, can the Minister give the House and the country an assurance that we know how long it will be before the caesium levels in those peat and upland areas fall to a reasonable level so that we can get rid of this dreadful problem, which must have an effect on food production and exports?

Despite the occasional levity, I take the problem seriously, especially in Wales, Cumbria, and Northern Ireland, where the effects of the accident at Chernobyl still linger. Unfortunately, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any idea of how long it will be before the effects of the accident have gone from our land. We are monitoring on a continual basis, not only in the affected areas, but throughout the country and we are also monitoring imports of goods. The hon. Gentleman has heard the answer about exports.

Does the Minister agree that one cannot differentiate between aid and trade when talking about becquerel levels? Those levels are laid down by the EEC and should be adhered to in aid and trade by all countries. Will the Minister once again give us an assurance that he will examine the newspaper reports? I accept that most of them suggest that contaminated food has not been exported from this country, although there is the possibility of one shipment to the Philippines from this country. Will he give us an assurance that he will not only look into that but will take the matter to Brussels and ensure that food that is above the safety becquerel limit is not being exported, in either aid or trade, from any of the European countries? That is important.

Aid and trade are equally important. In many ways, perhaps aid is more important because the recipient countries have less sophisticated facilities than the trading countries that accept our goods. I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's point on that. I reiterate what I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). I will look again carefully at any documentation that he or his hon. Friends present to me. Having looked at that, I shall talk to my right hon. Friend the Minister and see whether it is necessary to take the matter to Brussels to encourage or fortify our friends there.

Sheepmeat

3.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations he will be holding with British sheep producers in advance of the next round of negotiations on the community sheepmeat regime.

My agricultural colleagues and I continue to stay in close touch with representatives of British sheep producers and will continue to consult them on aspects of the review of the sheepmeat regime.

The Minister may know what I am about to ask him, because I have written to him on the matter. Does he appreciate that the Crofters Union in the highlands and islands represents some 4,000 hill farmers, the vast majority of whom are involved in sheep farming? Does he appreciate also that crofting is a particularly successful form of agricultural activity and helps to retain a large population in the rural areas—one could say a high population per hectare? Given that, will the Minister undertake to seek a meeting with the Crofters Union on negotiations about the sheepmeat regime, and in those negotiations will he undertake to look for reforms and methods of administration that will benefit the smallest farmers, such as crofters, in the poorest areas?

The negotiations have not yet got under way. However, my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office, met representatives of the Scottish Crofters Union on 5 February and assured the union that the interests of the traditional producers would be kept in mind in the negotiations. Obviously, I shall stay in close touch with my noble Friend the Minister of State and I shall bear in mind the points made today by the hon. Gentleman.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it would be unwise to be boxed in to a line-by-line defence of every dot and comma of the status quo in the sheepmeat regime and that what matters is to preserve equivalent benefits that exist now for British producers, make sure that we retain access to the continental markets that have grown in importance and retain the advantage that comes from our extensive system of rearing?

It is right not to be committed line by line, because negotiations would never be successful if one started from that point of view. The negotiations have not yet started. I agree broadly with my hon. Friend that those are our objectives and I make it clear that I shall continue to seek measures for the future of the sheepmeat regime that will enable United Kingdom sheep producers to make the most of our natural advantages.

In his consultations with sheep producers in the United Kingdom, will the Minister bear in mind the importance of the sheepmeat regime, particularly the EEC Commission's proposals to change it, to areas such as Scotland and Wales? I plead that, when the negotiations in Brussels come to a head, the Minister will seek to take with him his colleagues the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland, to emphasise the vital importance to those countries of the proposals that are being considered in Brussels.

I work closely with my right hon. Friends. As a Scot, I am clearly well aware of the implications for Scotland. We shall have to judge at the time who goes to the negotiations. We have not yet started the negotiations. I suspect that they will be pretty long. We still lack detail on most aspects of the Commission's proposals, but I shall obviously be in close touch with my right hon. Friends. Of course, I discuss the matter with the industry in Scotland when I visit Scotland. We are well aware of the industry's views and the impacts on the two countries to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Does the Minister recall telling the House immediately after the Copenhagen meeting that the sheepmeat regime proposals for stabilisers discriminated against this country? Does he recall also that such stabiliser proposals were accepted by the Prime Minister in Brussels? How will he ensure that sheep remain on the hills? How will he ensure an adequate income for sheep farmers in upland areas? Some of them have advised me that when the stabilisers come into force next year they will be down £3,000 on their already meagre incomes.

As I have said, obviously there must be a stabiliser for the sheepmeat regime. Currently, costs are expected to be over 1 billion ecu for the sheepmeat regime as a whole. Therefore, it is necessary that there are stabilisers for the sheepmeat regime. We had to look at the overall balance of the outcome of the summit. One element in the sheepmeat stabiliser singled out the United Kingdom. That is because we have the variable premium, and no other state does. There was a feeling in the Community that a different regime had to apply to the different system that we have. There was one other discriminatory element in the proposals which is particularly important to the upland areas to which the hon. Gentleman referred. This is the proposal to limit headage payments. We got that out. Obviously, the impact of the stabiliser next year will depend on sheep production. If sheep production exceeds targets here and in the rest of the Community, the sheepmeat stabiliser must apply.

Nitrates

4.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give figures for the amount of nitrates applied to land in Britain in each of the years (a) 1960, (b) 1970, (c) 1980 and (d) 1987.

Such information is not available, as details are not maintained of the proportion of nitrates contained in fertilisers applied to land. Nitrates are, of course, only one form of nitrogen found in such fertilisers.

The amount of nitrogenous fertiliser applied in the past 30 years has more than trebled. In view of the serious problem of pollution of water supplies by nitrates in eastern Britain and the major role that deintensification and low-input agriculture could play in reducing Common Market surpluses, will the Minister consider introducing curbs on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers? I have in mind either a tax on nitrogenous fertiliser or, in areas that are severely affected by nitrate pollution, a complete prohibition on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers.

The Government are still considering the options that were identified in the nitrate co-ordination group report. They are complex matters. It is important that we get any policy changes or other proposals resulting from the report absolutely right. Although we are considering what should be done in the light of the report, I do not think that a tax is an effective or efficient means of reducing cereals and other crops in surplus; nor do I think that it would necessarily have the impact that the hon. Gentleman requires. It would have to be a very high tax indeed. Of course, it would operate indiscriminately. Therefore, I am not sure that it is the right approach to take. We are still considering the report in general and will make our views known as soon as we possibly can.

National Farmers Union

5.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the president of the National Farmers Union; and what matters were discussed.

7.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of the National Union of Farmers; and what subjects were discussed.

I meet the president of the National Farmers Union and other representatives frequently to discuss matters of agricultural policy. The last occasion that I met the president was Tuesday of this week.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that news. Will he send a message of Easter hope to members of the National Farmers Union in my constituency, who are pig producers, that his success on stabilisers will open the door to the start of successful negotiations on 18 April, to a change in the green pound regime and to a reduction in the MCAs on pigs, which have so damaged the industry? Will he support the Food from Britain initiative, which is trying to open up new markets for British pork meat in the United States, and will he recommend to housewives this Easter that they should buy British pork?

I am sure that housewives will have heard my hon. Friend's last point, even this early in the morning. I support the efforts that Food from Britain is making to try to increase exports of pigmeat products.

As to my hon. Friend's first point, I raised the matter at the Agriculture Council this week, at which we had a preliminary discussion about the price review—the price proposals for this year—and I also discussed the matter with the president of the NFU. I have made it clear in the Council that, because of the increased use of cereal substitutes in the pig rations of some other member states, pigmeat MCAs are now producing, rather than preventing, distortions. I therefore called for an immediate and complete devaluation of our green rate in that sector. This will be a difficult and protracted negotiation because other member states hold a directly contrary view and the Commission has not made a proposal, but I have made my position clear.

When my right hon. Friend met the president of the National Farmers Union, did he make it absolutely clear that when he is in Brussels he is battling not only for Britain but for our farmers, particularly with regard to the green pound and stabilisers? To illustrate the difficulties that my right hon. Friend faced, will he say what line was taken by other member states on price fixing?

Yes, indeed, I did. As to the general line on price fixing, I imagine that my hon. Friend has in mind green rates, which will be an issue in price fixing. There were some calls from member states in that regard, but the Commission made it clear that it was opposed to changes in green rates, apart from the Greek drachma—Greek MCAs are three to four times greater than those in the United Kingdom. I made my position on the green pound clear in the preliminary discussions that we had at the Council this week.

Will the Minister assure our pig producers that their prospects for the next two years will be better than they are at present? Will he tell pig producers and the industry by what percentage he is likely to devalue the green pound in the next six months?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance, because we have a lightweight regime in pigs and it depends very much on the market. At present pig production is in surplus, and that market position is obviously affecting the price. In so far as measures are available to me, we argued for, and succeeded in obtaining, private storage aids, which are making some difference to market stability. I have made my position clear on MCAs in the pigmeat sector. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that pigmeat MCAs have fallen nearly 20 points since February last year to the current level of minus 7·5, which has made a big difference to the position. Pigmeat prices have stabilised and some feed costs are still coming down.

I accept that my right hon. Friend is doing all that he can to bring about an immediate 9 per cent. green pound devaluation, but will he give an assurance that the Government are exerting maximum pressure in this direction, and will he say what is the chief stumbling block to the devaluation of the green pound?

This is fundamentally a matter for the price proposals. I made it clear this week that it is necessary to take further steps towards achieving the objective of the complete removal of MCAs by 1992 when the single market comes into operation. We shall be discussing this matter at later Council meetings when we discuss the price proposals. With regard to the main stumbling blocks, there are divided views within the Community, and the Commission has made it clear that it is not making any proposals on this matter.

When the Minister next meets the president of the NFU, will he alert him to the increased incidence of licensed security dealers in the City of London who are investing in agriculture-related stocks, and, in particular, to the operation of Afcor Investments Ltd., which specialises in this sector and whose investments are questionable? Will he also raise the matter with his colleague at the Department of Trade and Industry?

I know nothing of the question, so I shall look into it, but it is not the kind of matter that I normally discuss with the president of the NFU.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he does not agree to any devaluation of the green punt without a larger prior devaluation of the green pound, so that British beef producers do not suffer still further from the disparity between the two and a devaluation of the green punt that is not matched by at least an appropriate one of the green pound?

We have not got into detailed discussions on the price proposals yet, so the precise positions of the different member states is not yet clear. My hon. Friend will note that last year we had a devaluation of the green pound in relation to beef that was ahead of the Irish position, and the competitive difference has come down substantially in the past year or two.

Will the Minister accept that, in Scotland at least, farm incomes in real terms are worth only one third of what they were worth 10 years ago? Does he recall that 10 years ago Conservative Members joined Liberal Members to beat the Government and force a revaluation of the green pound? Does the Conservative party accept that the case for devaluation must be prosecuted with as much vigour now as it was 10 years ago?

Farm incomes are under pressure throughout the world because of surpluses. It is because of that problem that we have been devoting so much effort to deal with the surpluses. The position of the green pound is a matter for agreement within the Council. Therefore, we have to get the proposal on the table if we are to get anywhere, and we have to get general discussion among the Twelve. That is where the issue has to be dealt with.

Forestry

6.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on measures to stimulate tree planting.

On 23 March we announced details of a new forestry grant scheme, to be known as the woodland grant scheme, which is to be introduced on 5 April. Copies of a Forestry Commission leaflet on the scheme have been placed in the Library of the House. We also intend to introduce the farm woodland scheme later this year.

How will the new planting grants impact on the existing farm woodland scheme, about which the Conservative party is so enthusiastic?

The farm woodland scheme, as my hon. Friend knows, is a mixture of two parts. There are the planting grants, which come from the Forestry Commission, and there are annual income grants to farmers to make up for the income that they have forgone by using that land for planting. Therefore, the farmers will benefit from the new planting grants that the Forestry Commission has announced, although we have interpreted them in such a way as to be of particular advantage for the planting of broadleaves and of rather less advantage for the planting of conifers.

Can my right hon. Friend give the House an estimate of what effect the farm woodland scheme and set-aside are likely to have on land use and the countryside over the next decade?

My hon. Friend expects me to have a crystal ball of a kind that I would not claim to have. We believe that there is a considerable opportunity for farmers to use land in both these ways. We are trying to combine a regime of stricter price control with alternative uses. The advantage of the farm woodland scheme, which has been strongly welcomed by the Opposition—[Interruption.]—except, it seems by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will be seen quickly and clearly by farmers.

Research And Development

8.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the financial resources currently available for agricultural research.

The total of Government expenditure on research and development in agriculture and food planned for 1987–88 is approximately £195 million. In addition, much relevant research is done by the industry, particularly the food industry and industries which provide agricultural inputs such as agrochemicals and veterinary pharmaceuticals.

When does my hon. Friend expect to come to conclusions about the future level of public funding for agricultural research and development, especially in the light of an internal review recently conducted?

The internal review is still being conducted, and we have held informal discussions with various bodies, such as the Agricultural and Food Research Council, development councils, producer organisations, research associations and the IPCS.

Is the Minister aware of the deep concern in Scotland at the continuing reduction in research facilities? Is he aware of the threat currently hanging over Torry research station in Grampian, and will he take action to ensure that we do not see the loss of this organisation?

I am aware that there is concern in many areas about the new shifts of research, and about areas in which research is going down. That is partly because we are looking at research into diversification and extensification, rather than, as formerly, purely producing more and more food. I shall look into the hon. Lady's question and write to her.

Bees

9.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any proposals to hive off the responsibilities of his Department's bee officers; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. From the next bee season we shall be concentrating our inspection for foulbrood on colonies where the disease is suspected or which have a recent history of the disease, but these inspections will continue to be carried out by the Ministry's bees officers.

Earlier this week I put on the Order Paper a request for morning sittings. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the usual channels for responding so quickly.

Has the Minister received representations from the Nottinghamshire Beekeepers' Association? Is he aware that, by reducing the number of random checks of bee officers from his Ministry on the hives of this country he will encourage the spread of American foulbrood, European foulbrood and, indeed, the bee equivalent of myxomatosis, varroasis? Will the Minister now restore any of the cuts in bee inspections and stand up for the health of the British bee?

Random sampling over the past 10 years of almost every hive has found disease in less than 1 per cent. of the flock, so the present level of inspection cannot be justified. Nevertheless, we shall inspect those premises that have foulbrood.

The inspections have prevented a further spread of the disease, and we now have a very healthy flock [Interruption.] We shall therefore inspect only premises where we suspect that the disease is present, or whose beekeeper asks us to inspect them.

Green Pound

10.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received about the level of the green pound; and if he will make a statement.

I have received a number of representations on this subject. The majority have sought a devaluation for pigmeat. Some have concerned all or a number of sectors. Representations from food manufacturing interests have opposed devaluation.

I recognise that my right hon. Friend has already said that he is seeking a devaluation of the green pound. Is he aware, however, of the considerable importance attached by the British farming community to his success? Bearing in mind that the first 4 per cent. of any devaluation will be used to offset the drop in farm incomes brought about by the recent package of measures on stabilisers, is he seeking a devaluation greater than 4 per cent., so that there will be real benefit to the British farmer?

Of course I am aware of the feelings of farmers in this country, but I think it is important to keep the two matters separate. The stabiliser regime is necessary on its own, with—if production goes beyond the maximum guarantee quantity thresholds—the effects of price reductions. That is necessary to deal with the soaring cost of the common agricultural policy and the surpluses.

Devaluing the green pound is a question of fairer terms of competition between the member states, and is also strongly linked with the move towards the single market by 1992, when it must be right to get rid of the MCA system altogether. It is important to approach the two matters differently, and that is what I am doing.

In my right hon. Friend's negotiations with other member states, will he remind them that they are meant to believe in the principle of fair competition? Are not British farmers suffering considerably because of the level of the green pound? Will he impress upon those member states that, as they have to get used to the principle of fair competition for 1992, it would be far better if they began to get used to it now?

I am sure my hon. Friend recognises that our competitiveness has vastly improved during the past year. United Kingdom MCAs are now 18 to 20 points lower than in February 1987, which is well over half in all sectors and more than three quarters for beef. That has significantly improved our competitive position. I agree about the importance of achieving competition on, overall, reasonably fair terms. I also agree about the importance of moving to that position ready for 1992, and that is what I stressed this week.

Coastal Protection

12.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from coastal authorities on his proposed changes in the capital allocation for coastal protection works.

Representations have been received from a number of coastal local authorities, from Members of this House, and from others with an interest in this matter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the important coastal protection work now under way in my constituency to save Hengistbury Head? Will he confirm that the proposed changes in capital allocation for 1988–89 will not affect schemes already under way or being considered by his Department?

My hon. Friend has mistaken the concept. All that we have said is that although there will be 100 per cent. capital allocation, there will be some occasions on which we will not have sufficient funds to give that percentage. We shall, therefore, offer a lower rate to local authorities that can manage with a lower capital allocation. The change is not fundamental; it is merely a means of ensuring that we use all our capital allocation each year, rather than leave some unused because local authorities cannot have 100 per cent. of what they need.

Forestry

14.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations were held concerning the proposed new grant arrangements for forestry; and if he will make a statement.

The forestry grant scheme and broadleaved woodland grant scheme were closed to new applications from 15 March. In order to maintain the confidence of the forestry industry, it was essential to announce details of the replacement grant scheme as quickly as possible. The Forestry Commission therefore had to consider and finalise the details of the new scheme very quickly, which precluded prior consultations on them as such with outside bodies.

In retrospect, does the Minister think that it would have been better if he had consulted the forestry industry, farmers and environmental interests? Does he accept that the result of no consultation is two forestry policies—one for England and one for Scotland and Wales? Does he recognise that the environmental safeguards that apply to Scotland and Wales are lower than those for England? As MAFF is the lead Department with responsibility for the Forestry Commission, does he propose to take any initiative to even out the application of his policy to Scotland, Wales and England?

The policy, in most of its broad details, is applied uniformly throughout the United Kingdom. The difference to which the hon. Gentleman refers arises because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I said that we would be unlikely to accept proposals for conifer planting in the English uplands. That is an English environmental matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, on environmental grounds and for forestry reasons that affect those two countries, took a different view on that aspect of the policy alone.

Overall, the policy is the same for all countries. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will approve of the emphasis in the farm woodland scheme on broadleaves rather than on conifers. There is only a marginal difference in the conditions for English upland areas, and that is for environmental reasons.

British Produce (Marketing)

15.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any further plans to promote the marketing of British produce; and if he will make a statement.

The Government attach particular importance to the improvement of marketing. For that reason we set up Food from Britain in 1983. FFB has spent about £15 million so far at home and abroad, most of it provided by the Government. In each of the three years from 1988–89 our contribution will depend on industry providing at least £3 million.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have excellent products in this country, but that traditionally we have fallen down on the marketing of them? Does he not believe that we could do still better?

I am sure that we could do better. Marketing is of great importance in the industry. It is in the market place that the farmer finds himself most at home. That is why I was pleased to see the excellent presentation of British food at the "Alimentaria" food fair in Spain, which is an increasingly important market.

Forestry

18.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about his Department's policy towards the encouragement of the planting of deciduous trees in England and Wales in the light of the Budget taxation proposals.

I have received no such representations, but substantial encouragement for the planting of broadleaves will be provided by the new woodland grant scheme and by the proposed farm woodland scheme.

While very much welcoming the Government's woodland grant scheme, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that, with the present state of the agriculture industry, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to start re-creating some of our lost woodlands? Does he understand the importance of that envronmentally as well as economically, in the light of the fact that we have probably lost about half our ancient woodlands in the past half century?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a good opportunity for three reasons—the surpluses, the environmental aspect and the other opportunities in farming. We have introduced the farm woodland scheme and it looks as if we shall get a good response to it.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 31 March.

In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the President of Cyprus.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the chief superintendent of the police in Wolverhampton and the 250 police officers in the west midlands on their brave and successful initiative with Wolves earlier this week? Does she accept that we must continue to detect and punish the violent football offenders who are determined to wreck football matches and ruin the game for genuine football fans?

I think that the police in all parts of the country are to be congratulated on their determined efforts to tackle football hooliganism and to track down those responsible for this terrible offence that is doing so much damage to football. With good co-operation between the police, the Football Association and the clubs a good deal has already been achieved, but I agree with my hon. Friend that there is still a long way to go.

Is the Prime Minister aware that from tomorrow, when her changes in housing benefit and rate relief come into effect, an old lady on a basic pension will, because of the 20 per cent. rule, have to pay £2 a week instead of getting £500 rate relief per annum? An 87-yearold war widow with a small occupational pension will have her housing benefit reduced by £17·87 a week. A couple in work with a joint income of £82 a week will lose £16·50 in help with their rent and rates. This is an historic day. It is the first Maundy Thursday in history when, instead of giving money to the poor, rulers are taking money from the poor.

First, more is being given to the poor, as the right hon. Gentleman knows—a great deal more. Indeed, expenditure on social security has gone up from £16 billion to £46 billion—an enormous increase. It will go up a further £2 billion next year. That means—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]— I am answering the question and I insist on doing so in my own way. The average family will be paying £64 a week to finance social security. Yes, we have had structural changes. Yes, they were meant to re-target the money spent so that disabled people, families with children and those in low-paid work are better off. In cash terms transitional protection of income support means that 97 per cent. of sick and disabled people, 92 per cent. of couples with children, 89 per cent. of single parents and 87 per cent. of pensioners get more or the same.

The Prime Minister is making the same stupid mistake as she made with the National Health Service figures. First, does she not realise that there is no transitional arrangement for housing benefit and for the loss of rates relief, so that is utterly irrelevant? Secondly, the Prime Minister can play the numbers game as much as she likes. There are 9 million people in poverty in Britain now. In 1979 there were 6 million people who were reckoned to be in poverty. The right hon. Lady can talk about targeting as much as she likes, but does she not realise that if the targets missed include war widows, if the targets missed include people who are desperately sick, if the targets missed include hundreds of thousands of poor people, her targets are rubbish?

What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that we can never have a restructuring of social security if anyone loses. It is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. He totally ignores the enormous increases —[Interruption.] We deliberately re-targeted. I dealt with housing benefit last week. Yes, we deliberately did have changes. There is no blunder in the figures. The fact is that 97 per cent. of the sick and disabled, 92 per cent. of couples with children, 89 per cent. of single parents and 87 per cent. of pensioners are getting more or the same. As for war widows, they have more to thank this Government for than any previous Government. It was this Government who totally and utterly relieved war widows' pensions of tax, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to say that once again.

Is the Prime Minister not aware that in order to get those figures she has had to lump together gainers and those who are reckoned to be neither gainers nor losers? The Minister who compiled those figures had to go to the Select Committee yesterday and admit that those who are reckoned to be neither gainers nor losers are already losers because, as he put it, their benefits were frozen in 1987. Does the Prime Minister not recognise that £650 million is being taken away from housing benefit and that 700,000 people will lose everything? They are people who have put a few bob away to tide them through their old age. The right hon. Lady is cutting them off without a penny.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that expenditure that has increased from £16 billion to £46 billion, and that is going up by a further £2 billion, is, even on his arithmetic, an enormous increase?

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the miners at the Gedling colliery in my constituency on the figures that were announced earlier this week, which show that productivity over the last year has increased by nearly 25 per cent.? Does she agree that increased productivity and greater competitiveness offer the best guarantee for the long-term interests of the industry, not only in Gedling and Nottinghamshire, but throughout the British mining industry?

Yes. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the miners on the excellent increase in productivity. I join him also in making it clear that there is a very good future for those who work in the mining industry when they produce coal at competitive prices and give a very good return on the massive amount of investment that this Government have ploughed into the mining industry. Many congratulations.

Will the Government rethink their appallingly short-sighted response to the report on AIDS and drug misuse in view of the fact that in Edinburgh 50 per cent. of those on injectable drugs now have the HIV AIDS virus, that this is by far the most likely route into the heterosexual community, and that unless money is spent in Edinburgh and in the country as a whole to control drug misuse we shall run a very serious risk of AIDS spreading into the community as a whole?

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He is very well aware of the large amount of money that has been spent on warning people about the dangers of the behaviour that they assume. We have tried to get over to them an excellent educational policy, and we have tried to make available very good extra facilities. A large amount of money has been put into extra research. I think that we have got the balance about right.

When my right hon. Friend goes to church over Easter, will she see whether the collection is to go to the fabric fund? If it is, will she reflect, as she puts her contribution in the plate, that 15 per cent. is going to her next-door neighbour? Will she therefore have discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether VAT can be removed from repairs to listed buildings, especially churches?

The Easter collection normally goes, as my hon. Friend, I think, knows well, to the clergy in the diocese, and I hope that it will continue to do so. I realise that my hon. Friend knew all that and only twisted the question the other way to make his point. The matter has been considered many times, and I do not think that there will be any change in the decision already made.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 31 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

As the Prime Minister is so dismissive of the views of the Citizens Advice Bureau, does she share the views of the member of her own party who said yesterday that pensioners with modest savings could lose up to £10 per week in housing benefit as a result of the changes coming into effect shortly? Will she give the House a straight answer?

It was a matter of policy that housing benefit should be cut off where people have £6,000 in capital in addition to the ownership of their house, which many of them also have. It was a matter of policy that those people should not be entitled to housing benefit. Every two households in this country support not only themselves but a third household and there really is a limit to the amount that we can have in housing benefit. Again, we think that we have got it right and that people without capital should not be forced to pay housing benefit to those with sums over £6,000.

When my right hon. Friend comes to reply to the letter sent to her by Amnesty International, apparently on behalf of three terrorists—mercifully now dead—will she point out that it is the organisation to which those terrorists belonged that has been in massive breach of all decent standards relating to human rights? Will she further point out that an inquest is to be carried out before a jury in Gibraltar and that the inquiry for which Amnesty International has asked is a stunt without status?

I agree with almost every word that my hon. Friend used in putting his question so ably. I hope that Amnesty has some concern for more than 2,000 people murdered by the IRA since 1969. There will be an inquest in Gibraltar and that is the proper occasion for the matters in question to be examined.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 31 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

At a moment of weakness on the Cross, Jesus said:

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Why, by the time we come back after Easter, will the Government have forsaken the poor of this country?

As I said, the Government do not find resources; the people do. The people are already paying £46 billion to state social security, and it is going up by a further £2 billion. The average family will then be paying £64 a week to social security. That is a very considerable amount. It is not the Government, but the people who find resources.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 31 March.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent tragic events in Northern Ireland reinforce, if any reinforcement were necessary, the vital importance of the Army supporting the civil power there? Does she further agree that if the "Troops Out" movement, which is supported by many Opposition Members, were to be successful, it would place many innocent lives in Northern Ireland in jeopardy?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and there can be no question of withdrawing our troops while the security situation remains as it is and the IRA continues to murder and maim indiscriminately. I think my hon. Friend will agree that we have every reason to be grateful to the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary for the considerable restraint and courage with which they carry out their duty.

Would the Prime Minister care to explain why she has chosen to meddle again in Scottish education and impose a major unwarranted and unwanted change —the opting out of schools? Would she care to explain why she intended to choose the dishonest and disreputable method of announcing the change through a planted amendment to the School Boards (Scotland) Bill?

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the system of governing schools in Scotland is quite different from that which obtains in England. He is aware that there is a Bill before the House which has received a First Reading and will soon receive a Second Reading. It will establish school boards in Scotland. That is the initial step which must be taken. There will be no addition, and nor could there be, under the Long Title, to make opting out a possibility during passage of the Bill.[Interruption.] We obviously take a totally different view. Our purpose is to increase choice in education, whereas the attitude on the other side of the House is that that is the education that Socialists want and the people must take it or leave it.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 31 March.

Will my right hon. Friend recall, especially this Easter time, Mr. Terry Waite and Mr. John McCarthy, who are captive in Beirut? Will she note the deep concern that is felt on both sides of the House for those two good men and all other innocent political hostages? Can she reassure the House and the families of those men that everything possible is being done to secure their release which does not put further innocent lives at risk?

Yes, we are very much aware of those two people and of all those who have been taken hostage. My hon. Friend is aware of the policy that we pursue. We will make representations on their behalf and follow up every lead to try to see that they are in reasonable health and are kept in reasonable circumstances. We will not pay ransom, because to do so would only mean that more hostages are taken. We do not forget these people and are well aware, particularly during public holidays, of the great strain that their families are under.

Business Of The House

10.31 am

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the week in which we return after the recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Wakeham)

The business for the first week after the Easter Adjournment will be as follows: TUESDAY I2 APRIL— Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Church Commissioners (Assistance for Priority Areas) Measure.

WEDNESDAY I3 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Health and Medicines Bill.

Afterwards motion relating to the Local Government (Prescribed Expenditure) (Amendment) Regulations.

THURSDAY I4 APRIL—Completion of remaining stages of the Health and Medicines Bill.

FRIDAY I5 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement.

When can we expect a debate in Government time on the proposed sale of Rover to British Aerospace? In view of what we have just heard from the Prime Minister, may we expect a ministerial statement to establish exactly what is the Government's policy on allowing opting out of schools in Scotland? Is it as demanded by the Prime Minister in the leaked letter to the office of the Secretary of State and confirmed by her today, or is it as stated, and frequently repeated, by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? Parents in Scotland are entitled to some clarification.

When does the Leader of the House expect to tell us that there is to be a general inquiry into leaks from the Prime Minister's office, or is it that civil servants are gaoled when they leak what embarrasses the Prime Minister and promoted when they leak what pleases her?

Will the Leader of the House provide a fifth day on the Floor of the House for debate on the remaining stages of the poll tax Bill? He will be aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment tabled amendments to the Bill after the guillotine was introduced. We think that the Opposition and those Conservative Members who claim to oppose the poll tax should have an opportunity to debate in full those amendments and all other aspects of the Bill.

Although we recognise that the security services were rightly concerned to prevent a terrorist explosion in Gibraltar, when can we expect a ministerial statement to be made which explains what happened and how the press came to be misled into carrying false information about the subsequent shooting? My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has still not had answers to the 10 questions that he put to the Foreign Secretary and until answers are given to those questions many people in this country will be perturbed about what is believed to have happened and this country's reputation will suffer.

Does the Leader of the House recall that on Tuesday the Prime Minister invited the Opposition to put down a motion to cancel the social security changes due at the beginning of April? Will he guarantee that, if we put down such a motion, the Government will find time for it to be debated and that the Prime Minister will take part in the debate and display to the whole country her expertise in robbing the poor to pay off the rich?

The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about business for the week after the Easter recess and other matters.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there should be a debate on the Rover Group and the recent arrangements with British Aerospace. We can best discuss that through the usual channels, but the Government will be happy to have a debate on that, if the time can be found for it.

With regard to Scotland, the points at issue could, with a little skill, be brought into the debate on Tuesday 12 April on the Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.

With regard to leaks, I do not believe that it would be right to have a general inquiry. I should have thought that the Opposition would have believed that proper government required confidential arrangements for dealing with matters and would have deprecated leaks rather than seeking to make political capital out of them whenever they occur.

I recognise that there is concern in some quarters of the House about whether there is adequate time for the Local Government Finance Bill. The House has passed a timetable motion in respect of the Bill, but I should be happy to have discussions through the usual channels to see whether satisfactory arrangements can be made.

As for the events in Gibraltar, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have agreed with the Prime Minister that it was right for the inquest in Gibraltar to have been conducted in accordance with the law and that any questions that might not be answered at that time could then be dealt with more appropriately through discussions with the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend. I believe that it is the right course for the inquest to take place, although, of course, that is not a matter for me.

With regard to the Opposition motion on social security matters, there is an established procedure to discuss on Opposition days matters that the Opposition choose. No doubt—

The Prime Miniter made a suggestion as to what the Opposition might like to discuss. That is a matter for the Opposition and, when a Supply day is organised, no doubt they will have to choose the subject that they want to discuss. I have no doubt that whichever Minister replies to the debate will see off the Opposition once again.

Order. The House knows that this is a day for private Members' Adjournment debates. I shall allow business questions to run until 11 o'clock. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will ask brief questions.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the emotional impact of the Vietnamese boat people who arrived in Hong Kong some years ago? Is he aware that several thousand refugees are still in camps in Hong Kong, some of them the original arrivals, and that when the governor of Hong Kong was in London recently he was apparently unable to persuade Her Majesty's Government to allow some of those refugees to settle in Britain and thus encourage other countries to help in solving this problem? Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the House to debate our moral obligation to those refugees and, indeed, the people and Government of Hong Kong, who have shouldered the burden for so long?

That is an important matter in Hong Kong and it is of wider concern, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate on it. However, I shall refer the point that he has raised to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Will the Leader of the House accept that, since the Secretary of State for Scotland is here today, and likewise the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for education, it would be appropriate to have a statement at 11 o'clock on the situation which obtains as a result of the now celebrated leaks which appeared in the Glasgow Herald? I am referring to the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and the Government's intention to bring forward proposals for opting out.

Will the right hon. Gentleman further accept that all those circumstances, which have been created largely by the Prime Minister, have caused the Secretary of State for Scotland to become something of a figure of ridicule in Scotland, which is not in anyone's interests? Such a situation cannot continue, and it would be in the Government's interest if a statement were to be made at 11 o'clock.

I am tempted to discuss other matters of ridicule, but I will not. The Prime Minister tried, and I tried yesterday, to set out the position with regard to education in Scotland. The right thing to do is to discuss this matter in the debate on the day that we return after the Easter Adjournment.

In view of the most worrying statement this morning by the chairman of the excellent British Aerospace that his results have been devastated by losses on the Airbus contract, will the Government make an early statement about whether they have any powers to bring some economic management into that project and to stop the creation of a mountatin of state-aided and unsaleable planes?

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend says about the management of that project, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The Leader of the House is undoubtedly aware of the great concern in Scotland about the leaked proposals. Will he say whether, in the absence of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the Government would be prepared to send the School Boards (Scotland) Bill to a Select Committee before it is referred to a Standing Committee, or does he have news to report on the progress of setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Can the Leader of the House help us? Does he know why the Leader of the Opposition appears to have discontinued the convention that he asks the Leader of the House the question on business? Is he too busy fighting on other fronts?

I am always sorry when the Leader of the Opposition is not here, and that is no criticism of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who stands in admirably for him. However, the Leader of the Opposition does seem to have one or two matters on his plate at the moment, and we shall await developments.

My task here today — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked me about the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and I am trying to answer him. My job is to announce the business, not the contents of ministerial speeches, and he will have to wait until Tuesday 12 April for that.

May I share with my right hon. Friend the concern just expressed that the Leader of the Opposition seems to have abandoned the long-standing convention of his being here for business questions? Perhaps my right hon. Friend will take an early opportunity to explain that to the House.

May I urge on my right hon. Friend an early debate, ranging across the whole spectrum of political policy, so that the various Labour party leadership candidates may give to their colleagues and the House the fullest explanation of their policies? Perhaps they will be prepared to give a statement on whether any one of them elected to the leadership of the Opposition would be prepared to liaise with any of the others elected as deputy leader. Opposition Members are entitled to know the answer to that vital question.

As usual, my hon. Friend is being extremely charitable to the Opposition. However, having heard some of the right hon. and hon. Members who are candidates, my experience is that at the end of their speeches one is not much clearer what their policies are.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend's way is the right way to proceed.

When will there be a statement on the Agriculture Ministers' meeting which took place earlier this week? Would it not have been better for the statement to have been made today? Will it be made when we return from the recess? Is the Leader of the House aware that 21 documents arising from the Copenhagen and Brussels meetings need to be debated in the House? Will he guarantee that they will be debated before decisions are taken?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the April business statement for EEC matters is not in the Vote Office? Does he agree that these matters are not up to scratch in a procedural sense, and should not the Leader of the House ensure that matters are improved as soon as possible?

The hon. Gentleman keeps a close watch on these matters. He is aware that I have had discussions and I recognise that there were some shortcomings in what happened in the past. We are doing our best to improve the position. There were certain discussions through the usual channels about the most convenient way of handling statements in the House. I will take on board the points raised by the hon. Gentleman and try to improve in the other areas.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any early-day motion which has attracted the support of more than 350 hon. Members? Does not such support reflect the strong feeling in the House about the anomaly whereby all public service pensioners' war service is included for pensions purposes unless their service was abroad? In view of the strong feeling expressed by the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is there any need for a debate? Should not the proposal just be introduced?

I recognise how strongly my hon. Friend and other hon. Members feel about this. As he is aware, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has said that he would be glad to discuss the issue again with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and a number of his colleagues. That is perhaps the best way to proceed.

As a result of the considerable concern over the Government's poll tax proposals, their complexity and the fact that amendments were introduced by the Secretary of State for the Environment after the guillotine fell, will the Leader of the House ensure that an extra day is made available so that those proposals can be explored in considerable detail in the House before we vote on them?

I do not believe that the fact that there are Government amendments automatically means that the guillotine motion passed by the House is invalid and should be reconsidered. That is not a precedent that I can accept. The question is rather the number of amendments, their complexity and whether there is adequate time. I told the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, that I would have discussions through the usual channels. We will look at this again, although the House has settled the matter.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the report published today by the Haringey education authority which recommends that children should be required to learn about

"gay scientists, lesbian stand-up comics and Nazi persecution of homosexuals"?
Will join me in condemning pernicious rubbish of this kind and support a policy for the sake of the nation's children and to prevent discrimination by way of reaction against the homosexual community that local authorities should not try to pretend that homosexuality is a pretended family relationship?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, but I cannot find time in the week after the Easter recess for a debate on that subject.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 919, which marks the fact that today is the second anniversary of the abolition of the Greater London council?

[That this House notes that 31st March marks the second anniversary of the abolition of the Greater London Council; calls attention to the loss to London of bold, imaginative and socially responsible policies in the areas of transport, planning, housing, recreation and the arts; further notes the cuts being imposed by the Government upon the London Fire Brigade together with the general deterioration during the past two years of London's services and infrastructure; and calls for the restitution of London-widelocal government, together with a single voice for the capital city and the return of a sense of London identity and zest for living which two years ago emanated from County Hall.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many respects services and infrastructure in London, particularly with regard to transport, planning and housing, have descended into unplanned chaos? The right hon. Gentleman has promised an early debate on London. When will it take place?

I congratulate those who tabled the early-day motion, because without it we would have quite forgotten the anniversary. Perhaps we should have a minute's silence from the hon. Gentleman once a year. That would contribute more to good government than anything else that he has done. I listened carefully to what he said, but I cannot promise an early debate on the subject.

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the reduction in rates payable by Londoners since the abolition of the GLC, for which we are all grateful, which we do not want back in any form?

Will my right hon. Friend consider early-day motion 752, signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to press the European Economic Community to renew the import ban on baby seal products as a means of maintaining pressure for a ban on the inhumane culling of baby seals, wherever they occur.]

May we have an early debate on this important matter?

That is an important matter. The Government strongly support the current EEC directive banning the import of harp and hooded seal pup skins and products on conservation grounds. A review of the conservation status of those two species will be undertaken before the expiry of the directive at the end of September 1989. No expiry date has been attached to our national measures to implement the directive under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976.

May we have a debate on the Register of Members' Interests, especially in view of the abuses that have come to light, including the planting of 58 parliamentary questions on behalf of Price Waterhouse and the recent article in the Daily Mirror demonstrating that Morgan Grenfell appears to regard Members of Parliament as being available for hire?

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 927, which calls for an inquiry into the sale of the Rover Group and especially the role of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit).

[That this House notes the £2·9 billion paid to rescue British Leyland, now called the Rover Group, by the taxpayer; is astonished that British Aerospace is effectively being paid £650 million to take over the sole remaining British volume car-maker with assets valued at over £700 million and an improving financial position; demands that any benefits go to the nation; and calls for a full inquiry into this bizarre deal and the position of the Right honourable Member for Chingford as adviser to the Chair of British Aerospace in the conduct of negotiations.]

Would it not be better to discuss all those matters and the effectiveness of the register in an early debate?

I know that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be helpful in these matters. I have noted the Select Committee's proposal about the changes to be made in the registration of directorships and its further consideration of lobbying, but I do not see the need for a debate. Although there is a stronger case for a debate on the Rover Group, I can add nothing to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).

In the light of the successful completion last night of the Committee stage of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, after three and a half days of exhaustive, if not exhausting, debate, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that if the Bill was obstructed on the Floor of the House on Report and Third reading, and was not completed, many people who have a great interest in the subject would look to the Government to provide time so that the House could make a final decision on the matter?

The Government have made their position clear. At the beginning of the Session, we provided additional time for private Members' Bills generally, and, except in wholly exceptional cases, we do not believe that we should provide additional time for any Bill, however important it is or how much support it attracts. But I agree with my hon. Friend that the whole House would deprecate the use of procedural tactics to try to stop it reaching a decision on the matter.

Has the Leader of the House read early-day motion 922, which has been signed by more than 120 Labour Members of Parliament?

[That this House notes the Prime Minister's apparent wish for a debate on her social security changes; believes that the challenge she issued to the Leader of the Opposition on this subject on Tuesday 29th March was solely intended to cover up her own confusion; and invites the Prime Minister therefore to propose a debate in Government time and on a Government motion to enable the Leader of her Majesty's Official Opposition to respond to her challenge.]

It seems to commemorate another second anniversary — the last time that the Prime Minister spoke in a debate in the House. Does the Leader of the House agree that the 62 new Labour Members are suffering from a form of sensory deprivation, which is a great disappointment to them, not having heard the Prime Minister's spout-to-kill policy in operation? Does he agree that the social security changes that will be introduced on 11 April would provide a suitable opportunity for a debate involving the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

I had noticed that early-day motion, but it completely misses the point made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday. If the Opposition are so set against the social security increases that will go to the overwhelming majority of claimants after 11 April, they should give themselves the opportunity to stop those increases.

Given that once again this week the Prime Minister has behaved towards Scotland with all the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor, will the Leader of the House—

Order. I do not know whether there is anything in "Erskine May" about that sort of comment, but I do not think that it adds to the dignity of the House. As it is Easter, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will rephrase his question.

Of course I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker. I would not call the Prime Minister a sex-starved boa constrictor, but outside this place I have heard a number of people refer to the Prime Minister in those terms.

Will the Leader of the House try to get the Secretary of State for Scotland off his knees for five minutes and bring him into the Chamber to make a statement on Scottish education so that we may know exactly what the Government's policy is?

If the hon. Gentleman is trying to influence me or change my mind, he will have to do much better than that.

Is the Leader of the House aware that many pensioners are extremely angry about losing the pension increase because of the delay in payment until 11 April? Will he arrange to dip into the money that the Government are saving by robbing pensioners of their pension increases to pay for free television licences for all pensioner households? Those licences will be increased on 1 April.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services, on the first day back, to make a statement on the changes in the social security system, which the Government have called historic, to enable the House to put questions to him about the problems that will inevitably arise from those changes?

Will the Leader of the House ensure that citizens advice bureaux are not victimisied by the Prime Minister but are given additional funds to deal with the avalanche of queries arising from the social security changes?

The answer to all the questions except the last one is no, Sir. The hon. Gentleman's question on funding for citizens advice bureaux is not a matter for me.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that during the week after the recess there is a debate on foriegn affairs, and especially the Prime Minister's forthcoming trip to Turkey? Will he convey to her the wish of many hon. Members and many British people that, instead of approving the veneer of democracy that the Turkish Government try to put on their country, she should instead visit the prisons in Turkey, which are the most overcrowded and which have the largest prison population in Europe?

She should also visit Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey where many Kurdish people are being killed by the Turkish army, and she should call for the release of Mr. Kutlu and Dr. Sargin, the general secretaries of the Communist party and the Workers party respectively, who have been held in prison and tortured but have not yet been brought to trial. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister denounces this travesty of democracy in the name of this country?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have a successful and informative visit to Turkey. I have already said that the time is approaching when we should have another debate on foreign affairs. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to discuss many issues, but I cannot promise such a debate in the near future.

May we have a debate very soon on the extraordinary saga of the disappearing documents, which were in the Public Record Office, relating to war crimes in general and to the allegations against President Waldheim in particular? Will the Leader of the House draw the attention of the Foreign Secretary to the leading article in The Times today about an alleged deal with Allied intelligence, and will he assure the House that the Easter holiday will not be used by our military intelligence to remove yet more documents from those files?

The hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to refer that report in the newspapers to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I shall certainly do that. I know how strongly the hon. and learned Gentleman feels about some of these issues, but I cannot promise him an early debate on the matter.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the troubles of Prescot, or indeed the troubles caused by Prescott? Prescot requires, indeed demands, new employment and it is right that the problems of this small town in south Lancashire should be debated in the House.

I regret that I cannot find time next week for that very important subject.

I welcome any move by the Home Secretary to ensure that there is adequate protection for African National Congress representatives in London following the assassination that took place in France. Would it be possible for the Foreign Secretary to call in the South African ambassador and make it perfectly clear that Britain will not tolerate the South African authorities' murder squads operating in this country? Would the Leader of the House also remind the Foreign Secretary that the ANC offices have, on numerous occasions, been burgled and that on one occasion they were fire-bombed? We must tell South Africa that its murder squads and other hit agents cannot operate in the United Kingdom under any circumstances.

I have no idea whether the hon. Gentleman's allegations are correct. However, I shall refer the points he made to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

The Leader of the House must act to end the tragi-comedy of Scottish education policy where the Secretary of State for Scotland is being turned into the Kurt Waldheim of the Government Benches; he only obeys orders. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to come and tell us about Scottish education policy because the Secretary of State does not know about it?

What is tragic is the way in which the Opposition get excited about some of these things and make a great deal of fuss and then realise that they are barking up the wrong tree. What I have done to try to assist them is to arrange the Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill on Tuesday 12 April, and if they get their act together, they can make their points in that debate.

Order. In view of the fact that the Adjournment debates are starting half an hour later than is shown on the Order Paper, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) should divide the time between them. The debate of the hon. Member for Newbury will continue until 11.30 and the debate of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East will be from 11.30 until 12 o'clock.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked you for a ruling yesterday, as reported in column 1107 of Hansard, on the issue of leaks by civil servants and politicians. My question is simple: are you going to consider that, possibly over the Easter recess, in the light of what was reported in column 1107?

I shall be considering throughout the Easter recess what went on yesterday.

Light Aircraft (Safety)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Ryder.]

11.2 am

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about the safety of light aircraft. I do so as deputy chairman of the Air Safety Group, an organisation on which are representatives of all the main political parties. If 1988 is anything like previous years for light aircraft accidents—by "light aircraft" I mean aircraft below 5,700 kg in weight — there will probably be at least 200 accidents, some of which will be fatal.

In 1987, 56 people were killed in crashes of that sort. On the face of it, that sounds like a large number of accidents until one realises that there are about 4,000 aircraft in that category. Nevertheless, the chances of being killed in a light aircraft are 46 times greater than in a commercial jet. A total of 200 accidents, even if they represent only 5 per cent. of light aircraft in operation, is a high number and in recent months I have tried to discover whether there are any similar features in light aircraft accidents that call for remedial action. To some extent, I think that my research has paralleled that of the Civil Aviation Authority, the inquiries of which proceed.

In a press release in October 1987, Mr. Christopher Tugendhat, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, said about last year's figures:
"Whereas fatal accidents involving UK public transport aircraft are very rare, the fatal accident record for light aircraft operated by private individuals and flying clubs has shown a disturbing increase."
He went on to say:
"I am asking a CAA task force to analyse these accidents to see whether there are any common threads and if anything can be done."
This morning I want to suggest some steps that should be taken. I do so after talking to private flyers, those who run flying clubs and the accidents investigation branch of the Department of Transport at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

The first and most surprising discovery I made during my investigations was that there is no legal requirement for light aircraft owners to have third party insurance. Obviously, some pilots have that as well as personal accident insurance. However, despite the number of accidents to which I have referred, insurance remains an optional extra. I find that disturbing. After all, light aircraft crashes often cause fatalities not just to the pilot and his passengers but to members of the public.

To give one example, in September 1985, at Fordingbridge, a microlight aircraft that had been flown to a school fete crashed when taking off from the fete. It killed a woman and injured her child as well as five other people in the crowd and the pilot. The pilot was not insured. As it happens, it was the first microlight crash in which a member of the public has been killed in this country. I refer to it solely because it illustrates the hazards inherent in private flying and the reason why third party insurance should be a legal requirement. In fact, had that pilot taken out third party insurance, it would have cost him £120 per annum, and, if he had personal accident insurance, that would have cost a further £500 per annum.

Of course, insurance will not prevent crashes or save lives, but it means that victims of such accidents can receive compensation. I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister the suggestion for compulsory third party insurance for private pilots.

When I visited the accidents investigation branch at RAE Farnborough, it told me that on average there are about 150 reportable accidents a year involving private light aircraft, including club aeroplanes. A reportable accident is one in which there has been a death or serious injury or in which the aircraft was missing or has been badly damaged. If someone has been killed, the accidents investigation branch sends out a team to the site of the crash for a field examination a report is submitted to the CAA. Roughly four months later the accidents investigation branch will publish an account of the crash in its bulletin. That bulletin is widely circulated among aircraft operators, flying clubs and manfucturers. However, private pilots will probably not see it unless they are a member of a club.

To obtain a private pilot's licence, the would-be pilot has to undergo a medical examination before he or she obtains a student pilot's licence. He will probably go solo after 10 to 15 hours training and will receive his licence after 40 hours in the air. Once he or she has received their PPL, they will be required to fly for at least five hours a year, in fact during a 13-month period. Depending on when they fly the five hours, it would be possible for them to fly those hours within a two-year time frame. However, those five hours are meant to be a refresher course, proving that the pilot is keeping up to date with the requirements of his aircraft, modern air space and aircraft regulations.

It must be anybody's guess as to whether five hours in 13 months or over a period of two years is enough to ensure that a pilot maintains his skills and remains fully conversant with the flying scene. Most flying clubs will not allow their members to use their aircraft if they have not flown during the previous three months. However, as long as a private pilot notches up his five hours in those months, he will continue to possess his licence and be entitled to fly.

That position does not exist in America, although there is much more private flying there. In America, private pilots must have a check-up with a qualified instructor every two years before they can continue to fly. That seems to be a sensible procedure that I suggest we should follow.

I have already referred to the medical examination that every would-be pilot must have before being given a student pilot's licence. When he obtains his PPL, assuming he is under 40 years of age, he will not be required to have another medical examination for five years. When he is between 40 and 50 years of age, he will have to have an examination every two years, and only when he is between 50 and 70 will he be required to have an annual health check-up.

Perhaps such wide intervals up to the age of 50 are acceptable and based on medical advice, but an annual medical when a licence is renewed would not seem to be unreasonable, particularly as 60 per cent. of light aircraft accidents are put down to pilot error, while only 30 per cent. are put down to mechanical failure, and the remaining 10 per cent. are put down to other reasons, of which attempted aerobatics make up a sizeable chunk.

Pilot error brings me back to the airmanship of the pilot, his knowledge of his machine and of the elements through which he will fly. Over and again, I was told that weather plays a crucial part in accidents and that, although pilots will have been through a meteorology and navigation test, too often they ignore weather conditions unless they are flying club aircraft. In that case, they can fly only if the chief flying instructor agrees; otherwise the decision to fly is the pilot's. He may or may not have an instrument rating. He may or may not possess effective information about the weather conditions into which he will fly, but if he decides to go, he may do so.

I have not seen a breakdown of accidents showing the extent to which weather is a contributory factor, but I know that icing on wings has caused several crashes. That leads me to ask whether the present meteorology exams are still enough and whether something more should be put in their place.

My hon. Friend the Minister knows that private aircraft are not required to be equipped with radio transmitters, although most modern aircraft, other than microlights, have them. It is a safety measure. Those to whom I have spoken seem to want to leave the situation as it is.

Club aeroplanes are maintained on a transport category certificate of airworthiness, which is to a higher standard than that required of a private pilot, who is allowed to do a certain amount of maintenance for himself. There are 50-hour checks and 100-hour checks. I said that club maintenance is to a higher standard than that which is required of a private pilot, but it depends on enforcement of the regulations.

Last summer, I flew to France in a club aeroplane. I was surprised to find that several instruments were malfunctioning. Our pilot, who happened to be my nephew, got us to Abbeville and back safely. When we arrived home at the club, another pilot and his family were waiting to fly the aircraft somewhere else. Nobody checked the instruments. Presumably that pilot, too, handled an aircraft with malfunctioning instruments. It illustrated the point that perhaps the CAA does not police private flying as scrupulously as is required.

It is inevitable that, in a short debate such as this, I shall have overlooked certain points that also contribute to aircraft safety. I have not referred to drunken flying, yet there is no doubt that it is a contributory factor to accidents. It is reasonable to ask whether we use our air space to ensure maximum safety for commercial aircraft and privately owned small aircraft, and whether club airfields are properly equipped with radar. Perhaps, as our air space becomes more widely used, the time has come to consider a measure of re-regulation, and to take a searching look at the general safety of light aircraft and those who fly in them.

11.13 am

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for introducing this subject. I pay tribute to his work as deputy chairman of the air safety group. He rightly said that commercial aircraft safety is at a welcome, high level. The general problems of those using light aircraft, often referred to as general aviation, deserve as much attention as those of us who fly as commercial passengers. Obviously, the regulatory regimes are different. I am glad that my hon. Friend acknowledged the role of the Civil Aviation Authority. Again, its competence and responsibility deserve praise. It does a good job on behalf of the people of this country.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the increase in the number of fatal accidents. In 1987, the number rose to 25. From 1981 to 1986, the number fluctuated between 13 and 20. The significance of the increase has been considered by the civil aviation study group.

I shall tell the House about the CAA's present views on light aircraft safety. Parliament has entrusted to the CAA all aspects of aviation safety regulation. It is for the authority to determine what steps are required to ensure safety in this important sector of aviation. The Government wholeheartedly support the CAA. Regulatory experience and expertise rests with the authority. I am grateful to it for providing me with factual material for today's debate. I shall arrange for the authority to respond to any points that I may not be able fully to answer in the available time.

May I press my hon. Friend the Minister a shade further on third party insurance? If there were to be such a requirement, would it entail legislation, or could the CAA make such a request to him?

That is exactly the sort of point to which my hon. Friend may get a detailed response later. The owner or operator of an aircraft is strictly liable for injury or damage to people or property on the ground. That is covered by section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. As my hon. Friend said, there is no legal requirement for an owner or operator to have insurance. It is for an owner or operator to decide the level of insurance for third party purposes.

It is worth noting that most owners and operators are fully insured. All United Kingdom airlines take out insurance to cover all risks. The vast majority of general aviation is also covered. It is believed that most sporting aviators and private pilots have cover. We shall be grateful to see any evidence that people can provide to the CAA or to the Government. It is the type of issue that Parliament should consider.

Towards the end of 1987, the mounting total of United Kingdom light aircraft accidents began to cause concern in the aviation community. The CAA set up a study group to investigate the scale of the problem and to decide whether there were common causes. The group was required also to identify regulatory and other measures that could be expected to halt and reverse the undesirable trend. I may have to double-check the number of fatal accidents in 1987. I am not absolutely certain whether the total is 25 or 29, but I shall clear up that point. The difference may be the four microlight and helicopter accidents.

My hon. Friend referred to one microlight accident. The CAA investigation concentrated on the major group of powered fixed-wing light aircraft. It was considered that the operating environment and handling characteristics of helicopters and microlight aircraft differ from the main group in so many fundamental ways that their inclusion would hinder analysis. The analysis set out to determine the precise scale of the problem and to relate the significance of the relevant 25 accidents to past records. I shall pass over some of the details of that, but it will be in the CAA report that will come out shortly.

A statistical analysis was applied to the observed variations in accident counts in specific areas, such as technical and weather factors. No individual factors were found to be significant. In summary, the CAA's statistical work at the end of 1987 suggested that the rise in accident figures for the year may have been significant. The CAA's interpretation was that, based on previous data, the figures were somewhat higher than what one might expect. Satisfactory analysis to verify or to refute the interim interpretation would require accurate figures on hours flown.

The study group found no grounds for complacency. Other major aviation countries, such as the United States of America and Canada, have significantly reduced their general aviation accident rates during the past 10 years. In the same period, the United Kingdom's rate has remained at a fairly constant but higher level. It might be expected that figures for the United Kingdom would, at worst, mirror international levels. There is a clear implication that positive measures to reduce the future United Kingdom accident rate must be implemented.

The group agreed that, irrespective of the final, accurate trend determination, there was a need at present to continue the search for significant accident causes and to develop proposals for remedy. I am sure that the group will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury for raising the issue in the House.

Four major activity problem sectors have been identified and examined in detail—multi-engined aircraft accidents, weather-related accidents, accidents attributable to technical causes and private — non-club —accidents. Those problem sectors matched the concerns that my hon. Friend mentioned and I am sure that the House will appreciate the research that went into his speech and the way in which he raised the issue.

The selection filter for those areas was simply the fact of their relatively high frequency of occurrence in the 1987 statistics. Specific remedial action might logically be expected to be the most cost-effective.

In all those investigations, the most common recurring theme was "error of judgment." The group felt that general and particular issues should be addressed in the search for improvement. That implies an examination of the pilot error aspects of accidents, with particular emphasis on the need to improve the general level of decision-making made by light aircraft pilots. It also takes account of the four main problem sectors and calls for more specific examination of the factors affecting them.

The CAA concluded that additional general aviation regulation was not likely to be effective in the pursuit of improved decision-making because strict adherence to existing regulations would have eliminated a high proportion of the accidents. The basic problem is determination of the causes of lack of adherence to regulations and the development of remedial proposals. Without them, the imposition of additional regulations would be irrational and probably nugatory.

When pilots fail to adhere to existing regulations they do so either because they have personality problems prompting them to disregard constraints or because they are unaware of the existence or significance of the regulations. In either case, the remedy lies primarily in better training and education and only partly in a more vigorous application or policing of existing regulations.

Despite some concern that has been expressed by the general aviation community, no correlation was established between the weather-related accident count and recent changes in the aviation meteorological services in the United Kingdom. It was accepted that the service can provide all necessary information for safety operations. There is a recognised need to ensure that all general aviation pilots are made aware of the details of the modified service. Action already taken by National Air Traffic Services should largely cover that need. Many pilots operating outside club environments are not easily accessible for information distribution services, but a solution to this problem is needed.

The development of an effective system for preparation and dissemination of appropriate further education material requires more attention. It is improbable that such a programme could he effected without additional cost, and that may be difficult to justify in the face of current debates about the CAA's regulatory responsibility for non-commercial aviation activity.

There is a body of opinion in the sporting and recreational aviation community that supports the concept of self-regulation for such activities. It is argued that such flying is a sport, with no more or less inherent risk than others such as motor cycling, mountaineering, skiing or sailing, and that light aviation should be subject to no more regulation than is applied to those sports.

The view of the CAA is less sanguine. Aircraft in flight over land are regarded by many on the ground as a noisy, physical threat. They share the United Kingdom air space with growing numbers of public transport aircraft, so uniformity of regulation is essential for the continuing safe conduct of flight operations. There is no possibility that this necessary uniformity could be achieved by the fragmented system implicit in the self-regulation concept. The CAA retains the responsibility for aviation affairs right across the spectrum. Included in that responsibility is the duty to establish and sponsor such aviation safety promotion activity as is deemed necessary for a reduction in the accident rate.

The authority cannot provide services for nothing; it is responsible for the health of the whole industry. If it is accepted that recreational flight is a foundation for the commercial structure, it must follow that the limitations of possible cost recovery from general aviation cannot justify a reduction in involvement. The cost will have to be recovered from the industry as a whole.

The further education need also became apparent in the study of accidents to pilots operating outside the flying club environment. Identified causes for 50 per cent. of accidents to the non-club set were miscalculation of aircraft capability and navigation-weather problems. These same problems accounted for only 25 per cent. of the accidents in the club-associated set. The conclusions to be drawn from that disparity must be tempered by the smallness of the sample. It is reasonable to infer that in some respects the non-club set is more at risk than the club-affiliated set. The distribution of safety promotion material must be adjusted accordingly.

The analysis of multi-engined aircraft accidents showed yet again that errors of judgment lay at the root of most of the accidents. Some seven of the 11 pilots involved were professionally licensed and, consequently, subject to regular periodic performance testing. The further examination of the causes of this apparent professional inadequacy will be dealt with by the CAA flight operations inspectorate. There is a suspicion that the current aviation boom has already caused a reduction in the mean experience level of pilots at the air taxi section of the industry, and that may be becoming apparent in accident levels. Consideration is being given to reappraisal of approval and checking requirements to allow for those reduced experience levels.

In the remaining non-professional sector, it was felt that lack of checking was unsatisfactory. As my hon. Friend said, a twin-engine aircraft rated pilot may remain continuously rated-licensed with only five hours flying per year, including one twin-engined aircraft flight. Under such undemanding circumstances, it might be expected that the impact of the original training lessons would be reduced by the passage of time and the shortage of continuous experience. Nor is it likely that such a regime could provide sufficient opportunity for refresher training in sectors such as asymmetric flight. Within the club environment, there may be reasonable continuous performance monitoring, but the private aircraft operation outside the club is under no constraint except self-discipline.

The group felt that the number of loss-of-control-after-engine-failure accidents was strong evidence in support of a requirement for a more positive and formal system for verification of continuing performance adequacy. Proposals will be made for the introduction of such a system, and this is the only sector in which new regulation rather than further education has been seen to be desirable. Those words will provide some reassurance to my hon. Friend and they show that he has put his finger on one of the more practical issues in which change is likely to be made.

Absolute safety is unachievable. There will always be an element of risk in flying. The aim of the safety regulations must be to attempt to reduce that risk to an acceptable level. Legislation by itself will not improve safety unless it reinforces what is generally agreed and accepted as being good practice. The most effective way to improve flight safety is through better education in its broadest sense. It is also the most expensive solution.

The CAA report on general aviation accidents is more comprehensive than can be outlined here. At present it is on CAA internal circulation for comment and should be made more widely available by the end of next month.

Anyone reporting this debate would be well advised to recognise the distinction between "General Aviation" and "general aviation", as most of us as fare-paying passengers would regard it. Many involved in the light aircraft world apply their skills in an acceptable way. The relatively small number of accidents is welcome. It was the increase in the level of accidents in 1987 that caused concern. It is right to pay attention to any trend that appears to be out of line and I am sure that the House will agree that our aim should be to make the United Kingdom one of the safest countries in the world in light aviation, in the same way that we are on the roads.

Aids

11.29 am

It is hardly possible to exaggerate the seriousness of the threat of AIDS to our society. It is undoubtedly the biggest crisis in public health for over half a century. It is true that, according to Government figures, only 749 people have died of AIDS and only 1,344, at the last count, were identified as suffering or having died from AIDS. However, as we all know, this is only the beginning of this tragedy and many thousands of people are already infected with the AIDS virus and will develop AIDS and, like all AIDS sufferers, will subsequently die from that illness.

The AIDS syndrome was described only in 1981, and it was in 1983 that the human immunodeficiency virus which is responsible for AIDS was identified. Since that time, a great deal has been learnt about the virus, and we certainly know a lot about the methods of transmission. The virus does not survive easily outside the human body; that means in practice that there are three methods of transmission — sexual, blood to blood and maternal/ foetal. It is certainly the case that in England the vast majority of people who have died from AIDS or are suffering from it are homosexuals, but it is wrong to see the problem of AIDS as one that is solely, or even largely, related to the gay community.

I am glad that a Scottish Office Minister is here to reply to the debate, as the position in Scotland is different. Whereas in the coming years the vast majority of AIDS sufferers in England will continue to be homosexual, in Scotland that will not be the case. There is nothing unique about Scotland. The position in Italy and Spain is similar, in that over half the cases of AIDS there are related to drug abuse.

In Scotland the problem is concentrated, to a large extent, in the south-east. It is well known that the situation in Edinburgh is serious. It has been known for a long time that more than half the injected drug misusers are carriers of HIV. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm the last figures that I have, which show that in Glasgow 5 per cent. of injected drug users were HIV positive.

It is vital that we recognise the enormous importance of tackling the spread of this virus, either within the drug-injecting community or between the drug-injecting community and the rest of society. This is important, first, because there are thousands—in Edinburgh alone there are more than 2,000—of people who misuse drugs and who are HIV positive.

Secondly, it is important to understand that the drug takers are a transient group; they are not a fixed population. People give up drugs and move into general society and, sadly, people, usually younger people, move into that community or habit. It is also the case—again, there has been some misinformation about this, but the research in Edinburgh makes it quite clear—that these drug addicts travel all over the country, so that the infection is spread from major cities, whether Edinburgh or Dundee, to other parts of the country.

Fourthly — this is particlularly important — the infection among the drug-taking community will for some time be the main source of transmission into the heterosexual community. The evidence is clear, but it is unfortunate that we still find people writing in the popular magazines suggesting that the virus cannot be transmitted by normal sexual intercourse. A paper was published recently by a group of Edinburgh workers based on research into partners of HIV-positive drug abusers and one can be fairly confident that the vast majority of these partners have not been injecting drugs themselves. It is clear that a number of them are already infected by HIV as a consequence of a heterosexual relationship with an HIV-positive drug-injecting partner.

Another reason why we attach such great importance to this issue is that the vast majority of the babies who are born HIV positive — of 65 such babies born in the United Kingdom, 40 have been born in the Lothian area —are born to mothers who have contracted AIDS or the HIV virus through the misuse of drugs.

How can we tackle this enormous problem? One approach is to eliminate drug misuse, because if we could do that, we would eliminate this source of infection. We all want to eliminate drug misuse, but we shall not achieve that, certainly not within the time scale that is necessary if we are to avert an enormous increase in the spread of HIV throughout our society. We cannot allow ourselves to get hooked on to that approach. We will want to try to ensure that the measures that are taken to tackle HIV within the drug community are complementary to measures to reduce drug abuse, but one of the mistaken approaches, which I hope that the Minister will reject, is the suggestion that the solution is simply to tackle the problem of drug misuse.

It has been spelt out time and again that the threat of HIV to our society is much greater than the threat of drug misuse. We must fully recognise that fact, which means that we cannot wait until we have tackled the drug problem. We have to persuade drug injectors to alter their habits. How best can we go about doing that? The best information that we have had to date on how to do so is the document of the Government's advisory council on the misuse of drugs, which was published earlier this week. That document represents a valuable statement on how we should go about tackling this problem.

The report emphasises —this is how we see it in Edinburgh on the basis of our experience — the importance of making contact with these drug misusers. We must educate them, and that cannot be done through television or public education programmes. We have to do it by making direct contact with them and, as a consequence, the advisory council has come out strongly in favours of the development of a community-based drug service. We have some experience of this in Edinburgh, where there are a number of drug groups. Historically, partly because of the lack of provision by the public sector, these are voluntary groups which were originally directly funded by the Scottish Home and Health Department but which are now being funded by the local health boards.

These groups are already making a valuable contribution, but they need more resources. The people who are working in the front line are able to relate more effectively to drug injectors than some of the professionals, and they need more resources. They can provide advice and counselling. The most important thing is to make contact, and contact is not made with many drug misusers. The report suggests that so far only a third have been contacted.

The conditions of service of workers in the drug groups should be improved, and this applies to both national and local government funding. Better facilities are needed. To make these workers wait for three years on temporary contracts before telling them that there will be an extension of the programme is wholly unsatisfactory, and I hope that something can be done about that. We need to allow these dedicated people security of employment, because we know that we shall need them for a long time. We also need more provision in the public sector. We need better hospital-based facilities to back up local drug groups and more back-up, in particular, for general practioners who have a high number of HIV-infected individuals within their practice.

It is crucial that we provide additional resources to back up the facility for that kind of contact with injecting drug misusers. Once a dialogue is taking place, we are able to have some influence over them. There is evidence that that influence is already beginning to reduce the risk of their picking up the virus, if they do not already have it, or of transmitting it to other people.

We know that the main method of transmission among drug takers is the sharing of dirty needles. Edinburgh's history in that respect is well summarised in last Session's report of the Select Committee on Social Services into AIDS, which pointed out that during the epidemic of heroin taking—particularly among young people—in Edinburgh in the early 1980s, the practice of sharing dirty needles was very prevalent. That practice was probably contributed to by the police effort to clamp down on the drug problem by virtually eliminating the legal sale of clean syringes. As a consequence, there was a tremendous explosion in the number of people infected over that period.

It is well known that that was the main method of transmission. It was clearly documented in a paper produced by Edinburgh professionals in February 1986. The Scottish Office commissioned a report from a committee chaired by Brian McClelland published in September 1986, which recommended decisively that the Government should bite the bullet and provide clean syringes at an exchange centre, where drug injectors would be able to obtain free needles and syringes.

The Government's response to that call has been so inadequate as to be positively irresponsible. They sat on the McClelland report for months. Eventually, they announced 15 pilot schemes, 12 in England and three in Scotland. Of course such projects involve problems —the Minister may wish to comment on them—but we must make the projects work. It is not sufficient to say that, because there has been a problem in Dundee, such a project will not be possible there. The Edinburgh example shows that the schemes can be made to work. In the long term, the only test of their success is the extent to which they reduce the spread of HIV. But we will not know that for many years. In the short term, the only test can he the number of clients who have been contacted and provided with clean needles, with whom a relationship can be developed and who can be given advice.

Edinburgh has one centre open for half a day a week. We want many more centres throughout the area that are open for much longer. The Government's response to the recommendation in this area in the report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is profoundly disappointing. The Minister for Health states:
"While the evaluation points to some promising features of such schemes, we do not consider that we yet have sufficient evidence to recommend an expansion of schemes in England."
The Scottish Office is marginally more positive in its response. The Under-Secretary of State, who will reply to today's debate, states:
"So far as further needle exchange arrangements by Health Boards are concerned, we are not yet in a position to reach general conclusions on whether any extension of the existing arrangements would be appropriate. However, if any Health Board considers that, notwithstanding possible developments in the pharmacy-based field, there is a need for such facilities in their area, we shall be prepared to consider specific proposals." —[Official Report, 29 March 1988; Vol. 130, c. 406.]
I hope that the Government will think again.

Of course we support the provision of free needles through community-based pharmacists. I welcome the Under-Secretary's statement in his response to the ACMD report that he will enter into discussion with pharmaceutical organisations in Scotland with a view to encouraging them to sell clean syringes. Indeed, there is a good example of how that can work in Glasgow.

In some instances, individual general practitioners may also have an important part to play in the provision of clean needles and syringes. However, they are not a substitute for needle exchange centres. The counselling, advice and education that can be provided in a well-established needle exchange centre, where effective dialogue with drug injectors is possible, may well be more effective than a pharmacist could ever be. That is not to detract from what the Minister is trying to do, but his proposals must not be seen as an alternative to support for such centres.

When we had our only major debate on AIDS, in November 1986, the then Secretary of State made the point that the Government wanted this to be an all-party issue. Of course we are all united on the need to tackle the problem. But, as I said in that debate, if the Government want it to be an all-party issue, that can be sustained only if they are prepared to provide the level of resources that the community—the electorate—considers adequate. We are approaching the point — if we have not already reached it—at which the Government are failing to do that.

In some health authorities and health boards in London —and certainly in Lothian and other parts of Scotland— the provision of facilities to look after AIDS sufferers is already a significant proportion of their budgets. I welcome the Government's specific capital allocation for AIDS units in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, and I have no criticism of the level of that allocation. I feel, however, that the Government have fallen down on the expansion of resources to tackle the problem before it reaches the stage at which people suffer and die of the disease.

We need a much larger investment in projects to provide counselling and advice for drug users. Of course, some of the money must come from social work departments. The Minister will know of the disappointment, particularly in Lothian, in the Government's response to the joint officers committee of local government and civil servants which reported jointly to COSLA and to Ministers. The Minister accepted the report's recommendations, and said that the increase already provided for social work would cover the requirements. But that is not really adequate, especially in Lothian, which has a special problem. While I welcome the additional money that is being provided, particularly on the capital side, we need additional, specific resources, not only to support the projects to which I have referred, but also for the social work departments' functions in this area.

There was all-party support for the funding of £500,000 by the Lothian regional council, even in its current difficulties. I believe that Lothian may have to make great sacrifices to find money to tackle the problem. The money should come from central Government.

Lothian is lucky—as the Minister, who has taken an interest in the matter, will probably confirm—in that a number of very able people are working on the subject, some highly qualified professionals and other dedicated workers with the voluntary groups. It is striking that so many people have come forward, including senior public sector professionals, to tackle the problem with such commitment, but we need more resources.

Tragically, Lothian is an archetypal authority in that we are having to tackle a problem of major significance to the entire United Kingdom and other European countries. I believe that we can become a model of how best to tackle the problem if the Government give the funding we need, but that will not be done in a few months.

Although it is not only a question of resources, I must stress that we do need more resources, particularly in Lothian, so that we can set an example that will benefit not only Scotland but the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe.

11.50 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) on securing this Adjournment debate and on choosing this important subject. I assure him that the Government take the problems of AIDS and drug misuse very seriously. We know that they are of considerable concern in Scotland.

Of those who have chosen to be tested for HIV infection, more than 50 per cent. are intravenous drug misusers, whereas the corresponding figure for the United Kingdom as a whole is only 7 per cent. In Scotland, more than 20 per cent. of those infected are women, the great majority of whom are intravenous drug misusers. In other parts of the United Kingdom, the AIDS epidemic manifests itself in risk groups such as homosexuals, but in Scotland it is predominantly associated with intravenous drug misuse. As the hon. Gentleman rightly emphasised, that carries with it the danger of spreading the infection, through sexual contact, to a wider population.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm figures for the extent of infection among drug misusers in the east, as opposed to the west, of Scotland. He has obviously studied the ACMD report, which in paragraph 7.4 estimates that between 40 and 50 per cent. of intravenous drug misusers in the east of Scotland are infected with the HIV virus, whereas for the west of Scotland the estimate is between 2·5 and 5 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to acknowledge the imperative that the fight against the spread of AIDS should take precedence over the Government campaign to end drug misuse. I am happy to assure him that it is indeed the predominant priority, and our policies are geared towards that. The main message of the Government's public education campaign is that drugs should not be injected, but that those who persist in doing so should not share needles or other equipment.

If the spread of the virus among those who inject drugs is to be slowed it is vital that they understand the dangers of sharing syringes and needles, and they should act on that knowledge. The evidence is that that message is getting across. Indeed, one reason for the high level of HIV infection in Edinburgh and the east of Scotland was the injecting culture, where people deliberately shared needles. That resulted in a rapid spread of the disease.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that our response on needle exchanges had been inadequate. The experimental needle exchanges have provided a wealth of useful information about the behaviour of drug misusers and about the ways in which they can be encouraged to change to safer practices. The Dundee scheme was closed because of disruption by some of its clients. The Glasgow and Edinburgh schemes were more successful, although, on the basis of the hon. Gentleman's test of take-up, the Glasgow scheme was a little disappointing.

On 29 March I said that we had informed Lothian and Greater Glasgow health boards that, although central funding would not continue after 1 April, they could continue to operate their schemes if they considered that to be appropriate to local circumstances. The two boards have decided to do so. The drug misusers who have availed themselves of the services of those two boards can therefore continue to do so during the foreseeable future.

The hon. Gentleman emphasised the importance of funding local drug misuse services and voluntary groups that are in touch with drug misusers, and I agree with him. I am sure he knows that central Government funds are not intended to finance every worthwhile drugs-related project throughout Scotland. However, our programme makes a substantial contribution to the encouragement and assistance of such services. We announced last year that we were making an additional £300,000 per year available for a further expansion of drug misuse servies in recognition of the additional demands placed upon them by HIV infection and intravenous drug misuse. To encourage the development of local plans, we asked the health boards to co-ordinate proposals and to submit bids for a share of the additional resources.

We have taken on board the hon. Gentleman's plea that we recognise the special problems faced by Lothian and Greater Glasgow. The additional resources were specifically targeted at the three health boards most affected—Lothian, Tayside and Greater Glasgow. In total, £1·1 million has been set aside in the current year's health programme specifically for the support of drug misuse services, and a similar sum will be made available next year.

The hon. Gentleman asked about resources for social work and rightly pointed out the responsibility that falls on local government. A joint working group of Government and local authority officials estimated that in 1988 social work expenditure to deal with the effects of the AIDS virus would be just over £1 million for Scotland as a whole, probably rising to about £3·5 million in 1990. Those are not the Government's estimates; they were made by those involved in the provision of services. We have taken account of that in our rate support grant settlement for 1988–89 through a 1·5 per cent. increase in real terms, which is in excess of £3 million in 1987–88. Therefore, it is difficult to accept that the Government have done anything other than provide the resources required.

Will the Minister provide any additional resources as a result of the report, or is it simply a continuation of existing programmes?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that in answer to a question on Wednesday I made it clear that the Government would take careful cognisance of the report's recommendations. The thinking behind the report has been very much a part of our developing strategy. For example, we said on the same day that we would look to the retail pharmacist as a way to increase the supply of needles, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East paid tribute to that decision. It runs very much in line with the thrust of the report's recommendations.

The' report also pointed to the importance of finding informal ways to reach out and make contact with drug misusers so that we could get across to them the necessary information that might encourage them to change their behaviour. That aim has been part of our funding strategy for voluntary organisations and support groups, through the health boards.

The hon. Gentleman said that the number of clients of needle exchanges was a test. I cannot help but observe that when I visited the needle exchange at Ruchill it was dealing with about 65 people, whereas around the corner the pharmacist was selling more than 1,500 sets of injecting equipment every month.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having raised this subject. I assure him that AIDS and drug misuse have far-reaching social and economic implications which present challenges to the Govermment and the community on several fronts. We intend to meet those challenges. We are grateful to him for the support that he has given us and for the action that he has taken in the House in pursuing the matter.

Rover Group

11.59 am

I should make it plain at the start that this is in no sense an attempt to pre-empt the debate that is to come. I applied for this Adjournment debate before the statement on Tuesday was public knowledge.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to leave a little time for my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) to join the debate. He and I share the Longbridge works and most of the workers live in our constituencies.

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Industry, who has had a long connection, in his constituency and now in his official duties, with various forerunners of the Rover Group and who triumphantly concluded the recent deal for the sale of Leyland Bus on which I congratulate him. It is singularly appropriate that he has also had close experience of British Aerospace. He is in a unique position to advise the House on the benefits of the deal, so I do not apologise to him for the inconvenience of bringing him back to London for the debate, because he will welcome the opportunity to expand on the remarks of the Chancellor of the Duchy on Tuesday which, necessarily in responding to questions, were slightly disjointed.

The agreement between British Aerospace and the Rover Group is a great coup. Certainly it is a political coup. It is no wonder that the Opposition are asking for a full-scale debate, as they made such a sorry fist of the questions on the statement. They could not understand that limiting the tax losses was of benefit to the taxpayer. Indeed, they started burbling about child allowances in the context of what most of us concerned with the motor industry would regard as a most significant development and opportunity.

The political aspects certainly reflect the cracking pace that the Department of Trade and Industry under Lord Young has set in moving towards an enterprise basis and in returning to the private sector in a state of health the industries that have been in its charge.

It is worth emphasising that the Rover Group agreement is not just a political coup. It is a commercial coup because the speed with which the agreement has been reached has done a great deal to ease, if not end, the uncertainties that might otherwise have affected suppliers, dealers, customers and those who work in Rover. That confidence is very important.

We should not overlook the fact that while Rover has been in public ownership there has had to be each year full Government consideration of the corporate plans, with a great deal of discussion in the media and elsewhere about whether such plans were being funded in full and whether they responded to the capacity of the industry or its competitive prospects. All that discussion, which was necessarily spread out over some months each year, did a great deal of damage to the certainty that suppliers, dealers and workers in industry naturally expect to enjoy. I am glad that they will no longer be exposed to such intense scrutiny and the expressions of such doubts, whether or not they were justified.

The agreement also marks the care that the Government have taken with the Rover Group. It is not a question of getting rid of it at any price, as the Opposition have been trying to suggest. The Government have sustained it almost at any price, and certainly at great cost to the taxpayer. Therefore the Opposition are in some difficulty. On the one hand they suggest that Rover is being got rid of at any price, and on the other hand the say that the Government are doing too much to help it. The Opposition will have to make up their mind which path they wish to pursue.

Conservative Members certainly take confidence from the progress that Rover Group has made under Mr. Graham Day and his management team to improve the margin on its vehicles, to improve the quality of those vehicles, to develop markets for them, to return the company to a trading profit and enable it to resume its rightful place in the private sector. That is a mark of the progress that has been made. It is not a sign of defeat or failure; it is a very strong signal of confidence in the progress and viability that the company has achieved.

Part of that confidence comes from the collaboration with Honda. In the days of the Ryder report—if we can remember those gloomy days—I said in the House that the future for the company, as it then was, rested in collaboration with other companies. At that stage, we had not envisaged the collaboration with Honda which has been most fruitful in terms of shortening the design cycle, bringing forward new models, sharing the experience of such a skilled engineering company as Honda and developing remarkable products which now enjoy success in the market place.

The additional collaboration with British Aerospace marks another step in the same direction. I welcome the fact that collaboration with a British company is about to start, thereby giving further confidence to dealers that there will be no hiccups in the marketing of vehicles, and that customers may retain their traditional loyalties and continue to support the product.

I wish to make one or two further points that would do a great deal to buttress the confidence of those in the industry and the all-important customer. I refer to the Metro in particular. I shall question the Minister in a moment, but I believe that we already have an assurance that the next model jointly to be produced with Honda will be continued—it is now codenamed the R8.

However, I want to look a little further ahead. If the Metro model is to be replaced, the necessary steps will have to be taken now for it to be produced in 1990. If we were to have the R8 in 1989, we must have the new Metro in 1990. That means that work must be undertaken. That vehicle is clearly important, and not only for those who have the interests at Longbridge at heart. As two of every three vehicles sold by Rover are Metros, and as it is the only model on the best selling list, it is vital for the work force that suppliers and dealers should be able to sustain their businesses.

Is my hon. Friend the Minister able to say anything about the outcome of the discussions in Japan between Lord Young, Professor Smith and Mr. Day? Was there any discussion of models after the R8? Did Honda say anything about its future intentions? Did it say whether it wished to go it alone on a green field site, or is it looking forward to continuing its collaboration with Rover and British Aerospace?

I appreciate that it may be difficult for my hon. Friend to give an open answer to a very important question, but it leads on to my next point. My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield and I believe that it is important to retain volume car and engine manufacturing at Longbridge, not just for constituency reasons but for west midlands reasons and state of technology reasons.

Never let us forget that at one stage the Longbridge plant accounted for over 50 per cent. of all the robots installed in this country. It is at the cutting edge of technology. That is why it is important to be able to look forward to continuity, so that further development similar to that which is being undertaken in association with Warwick university may proceed.

If there has been any suggestion that Honda may not wish to proceed other than on a model-by-model basis and that it may have long-term plans to proceed independently, why, oh why, should a condition be imposed that British Aerospace must not divest itself of its cars division for five years? It would be foolish to preclude another manufacturer that might wish to take advantage of the excellent K series engine that is being produced at Longbridge, because it would add considerably to economies of scale and would enable the company to send some of its models down the assembly line, thereby reducing costs. What is the reason behind the imposition of that condition?

We have nurtured the Rover Group to the point at which it may at last be returned to the private sector. The agreement is a mark of success. It prepares the ground for the further progress and development to which I am glad to note that British Aerospace is committed.

12.12 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller) for allowing me to say a few words in this debate. I warmly support all that he said. He put the case extremely well.

Broadly speaking, I welcome the Government's decision to merge British Aerospace and the Rover Group. I make no comment about price, but it ought to be placed on the record that only two years ago the management was interested in purchasing Land Rover for about £250 million. At that stage, Land Rover was not even in the black. British Aerospace has negotiated a substantial bargain.

The Rover Group is not confined solely to Land Rover and Austin Rover cars. It still retains a 40 per cent. shareholding in Leyland Daf, which is now in profit. My hon. Friend the Minister has an immediate interest in that company. The Rover Group also retains a 25 per cent. holding in Unipart, the spare parts distribution and manufacturing section of the original BL cars group. It is trading very well indeed — as is Istel, the computer software and services subsidiary. The Rover Group is more than just a car manufacturer.

I welcome the deal and the price that has been paid. It has pleased many because of the resultant increase in the industrial strength of the new company. The House will recall that we sought to achieve that in the late 1960s. It was said that we had to be big to be beautiful and that we needed big muscle to succeed, but we learnt that we can be too big and that we can have the wrong muscle. I very much hope that the synergy of this arrangement is correct and that particular parts of this greater organisation will not disappear and wither away.

We hope that the industrial strength of the new company will be great, but we must ensure that there is a commitment to the maintenance of the car industry. It is essential that where the Rover Group is to find its market within the European Economic Community should be clearly defined. The group has at last pulled itself out of the financial quagmire and is now trading in the black. By all accounts, it should be doing a great deal better during this financial year.

I am encouraged by what Mr. Graham Day said in his circular to all employees. He said that the company has made great progress and is determined to maintain it. There could be no better signal of that determination than an announcement that the company intends to retain its present volume of car production at around 500,000.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove referred to the commitment to the new Metro project, which represents two fifths of current production. It is essential that distributors and dealers throughout the world should have such a car in their inventory. If they do not have a supermini car, they cannot face competition from all over the world. The Metro is consistently in third place among the top 10 cars in this country. It accounts for a substantial components input at the Longbridge works, where there are hundreds, if not thousands, of components suppliers. We look forward to the new management endorsing its determination to remain in that market by announcing that the new Metro will go full steam ahead.

If there is to be a change of direction, the £95 million that was spent on developing the K series engine and fitting out a new gear box factory, which the car will use in conjunction with the forthcoming R9 model, will have been largely ill spent. It can be justified only by large-scale production of new engines and gear boxes; 300,000 units a year are needed for the new Metro and the R8 car that is to be manufactured next year. Large-scale production is needed to justify the expenditure that has already taken place and that is still taking place. I look forward to a commitment on that scale.

I recognise that it is impossible for the company to publish confidential details of its forthcoming models. That information is rightly kept secret. However, we are living in unusual times and it is not unreasonable to ask for such a commitment. The Rover Group has the ability to prove that it is a worthy part of the car industry. Enormous strides have been made in productivity and quality. This last outpost of a rich British motoring legacy can deliver the goods and it is doing so. It deserves more than a lingering decline into obscurity. I am sure that the new management will grasp the opportunity to make a great success of it.

Not long ago, Austin Rover ran a slogan, "Now we're motoring." Unfortunately, it did not. Perhaps the smile on Professor Rowland Smith's face shows that he has thought of another one: "Watch us fly." This time it really must.

12.20 pm

I am particularly pleased to be answering the Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller). It gives me great pleasure to congratulate him on raising this subject; whether by accident or by design, he finds himself in the front line as a result of the announcement made earlier this week.

The House will be aware that my hon. Friend is one of the authorities on the motor industry. He is chairman of the all-party motor industry group, and he is heard on these matters with respect. So it is, too, with my hon.

Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfields (Mr. King) who in his past incarnation—and in his present incarnation as the hon. Member for the constituency that includes Longbridge — knows much about the importance of Austin Rover.

This is an ideal opportunity for the three of us —saving the presence of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)—to discuss the excellent news of earlier this week. I know a little about the Rover Group, as I represent the constituency that includes the town of Leyland, where it all started. Up there, they still talk about "Spurrier" or "Leyland Motors". I am very much involved, too, on the British Aerospace front and, incidentally, that company is still known as English Electric. The traditional names that abounded have changed.

I know from my experience of Leyland DAF and Leyland Bus, which featured in the press only yesterday, as well as of British Aerospace, just how important and ideal the combination of the Rover Group and British Aerospace will be. To add weight to the success story that is British Aerospace and will be British Aerospace and Rover, let me cite the acquisition by BAe of Royal Ordnance in my constituency, which has been extremely well run by BAe's managers, building on a very good work force.

In engineering terms and in a variety of other ways, the combination is excellent news. I very much agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove and for Northfields that the Opposition have been slightly wrong-footed on this; I put it no higher than that. We shall view with a great deal of interest their contribution to the debate that they have requested, and which I understand we are likely to have. We are very proud of the achievement that this spectacular deal represents in both political and commercial terms. It is an achievement for which my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State should be congratulated. We shall welcome the investigation that the Public Accounts Committee has suggested it may carry out, as well as the close examination of the deal by the Opposition, because we believe that it is an excellent deal that will stand the test of time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove asked about the commitment of British Aerospace in general terms. I am in no doubt at all that British Aerospace has taken on the company because it wants to develop and build upon it. BAe is keen to ensure that the work put in by Graham Day and his team is properly developed. BAe has said that it wants to abide by the terms of the business plan that Graham Day has produced. While there may be changes as time progresses—I hope that my hon. Friend will be watching for them and will give us the benefit of his advice—the company has told us that it looks on its acquisition of the Rover Group as a long-term investment and that it is committed to the maintenance and development in the longer term of the group's present business. Obviously BAe will address itself to the future well-being of the business and the shape of the product range.

While it would clearly be wrong for the Government to impose constraints on the management of the group, I should draw hon. Members' attention to BAe's own press release, which states that BAe believes that Graham Day and his colleagues have done an excellent job of repositioning Rover Group for the future and is keen to support his future plans for the Rover Group. The company has told us that it is conscious of the importance of Rover as a British-owned manufacturer of cars and four-wheel drive vehicles, not simply in terms of direct employment—to which both my hon. Friends referred— but in terms of Rover's significance to its supply industries, distributors, dealers and customers.

We have had a number of letters from component manufacturers and some from dealers saying how pleased they are that the deal originally suggested would be a British solution. The Opposition underrate the importance of that at their peril. The House will recall that in past discussions we all sought a British solution. British Aerospace further said that its purpose in acquiring Rover was to hold and develop its principal businesses and sees no reason to disturb these. British Aerospace's commitment is there, declared for all to see, and we can look forward to the result with confidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove referred to Honda. Honda made it abundantly clear to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State, on his visit and in our earlier brief discussions, that it welcomed the continuity of Rover Group's British management team, which would be assured by British Aerospace's ownership of the company. Honda said that it is keen to be involved in the discussions, which may well go wider than the motor industry because of Honda's close involvement with a wide variety of activities connected with electronics and related matters.

My hon. Friend referred specifically to the Metro. My hon. Friends are right to suggest that the Metro has played a substantial part in the achievements of the Rover Group in recent years. As my hon. Friend said, about two fifths of the sales have been Metro sales. British Aerospace recognises that fact. I cannot give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance—I know he understands that—that the Metro as such will continue, but it would be foolish of British Aerospace not to recognise the importance of the Metro and of building on its success in the market place. I am sure that British Aerospace will look to the future along those lines.

Another point that needs to be reiterated, although my hon. Friends did not deal with it in detail, is that, although we have achieved much, we need to ensure that the European Commission hastens its progress in giving its support to the deal. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State has done much work already with officials in trying to persuade Commissioner Sutherland that much needs to be done. Commissioner Sutherland has said, rightly and properly, that an investigation will have to be carried out. We hope that he will be able to undertake it quickly and efficiently to ensure that the deal gets the go-ahead in the time scale that we seek for it.

It is a source of great satisfaction to me, as the hon. Member for the constituency that includes Leyland, to join my hon. Friends, whose experience is well known to the House as well as to their constituents in welcoming a deal that will do an enormous amount to resolve some of the difficulties faced by the Rover Group over the years and to build on the obvious commitment that the Government have shown to the Rover Group by virtue of the investment of about £2·9 billion since 1976.

The agreement will provide a good deal for the taxpayer and for the shareholders of the companies concerned and, most important, an excellent deal for both British Aerospace and the Rover Group in their many and various guises the length and breadth of the country. I am pleased to be able to give my support and encouragement to an interesting and exciting future for both companies.

Community Care

12.28 pm

Community care is in crisis. The plight of the elderly, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, the physically disabled and the frail, and the millions—mainly women—who care for them tells us something about our society. For it is right that we should be judged on how we treat the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens.

All the evidence suggests that most community care is provided by a member of the family, a whole family or close friends. Community care should therefore not be considered a marginal policy for a marginal group of people. It involves mutuality — the responsibility of people to each other — which creates the fabric of a society that is worth being part of. There is a clear role for Government nationally and locally.

I hope that we can today examine the Government's record and, perhaps more important, their intentions in these matters, especially following the plethora of reports from Griffiths, to Wagner, Firth and the Social Services Select Committee in the previous Parliament. Almost all of them have met a deafening silence from the Government. Deafening silence is not something that we normally associate with the Under-Secretary of State, so perhaps she will correct that today.

The hon. Lady may be able to tell us why the Griffiths report on community care has all but disappeared. Time and again, when Ministers were pressed on social services, they said that the report would deal with such matters. They advised the House and voluntary organisations to wait for Griffiths. What happened? In contrast to the Griffiths report on the Health Service, the report on social services was quietly published on the morning after the Budget. There was no ministerial statement and no press conference. If ever there was a case of shooting the messenger and attempting somewhat clumsily to hide the message under the carpet, this was it.

The Government may be disappointed with the Griffiths report because it emphasises the role of local authorities. We ought not to be too surprised by that. The former Secretary of State for Social Services, as long ago as 27 December 1986, gave us a hint that, because the Government do not give community care a high priority, and because Sir Roy might feel that there was a role for local government, the Government might not say too much about his report. The Guardian of 27 December 1986 reported as follows:
'Mr. Fowler has become the odd man out in a Cabinet so plainly contemptuous of local government. He has actually been heard to praise the work of council social services departments, which he knows are pivotal to the success of community care."
The fact that Sir Roy Griffiths may have reached the same conculsion may be the reason for the Government's remarkable silence. I hope that the Minister will correct that silence today.

The Minister will also be aware that Sir Roy Griffiths gave a great deal of attention to the quite staggering report on these issues by the Audit Commission, which found that Government policies were "in disarray". It accused the Government of trying to muddle through in the hope that community care would somehow materialise as long-stay hospitals were closed.

If there were not problems in community care, the Government's social security review and their intentions for what is to happen after April have added considerably to the difficulties of many communities and people. There has been a collapse of any recognisable strategy for community care. I should like to give the Minister some examples. If time allowed, I could give many more. I am sure that she is in the same position.

The Edinvar housing association in Edinburgh has written to the Secretary of State for Scotland explaining that six mentally handicapped persons who had moved into a excellent community care project are in danger of losing housing benefit to the extent that their position in community care is in jeopardy. The director, Mr. Robin Burley, recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I understand that he will await a reply. He wrote:
"Not only will the April changes compound the perversity of the incentives which encourage residential care but in this small scheme six people who last summer moved from hostels to their own homes may have no alterntive but to move back to residential care."
If that happened, it would be an absolute scandal. I regret to say that it is not a isolated case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) has written to the Secretary of State for Social Services about elderly persons who will have to sell their homes if the property is thought to be worth more than £6,000 before they can even be considered for income support for residential care after 11 April.

Yesterday I received a letter from Age Concern telling me about funding for emergency alarm systems which will cost many of our most vulnerable elderly people about £5 a week. That simply will not be recognised by housing benefit, income support or even the social fund.

Most worrying of all is the problem of school meals and milk for the mentally handicapped and special school pupils. The Minister is rather fond of lecturing the nation about nutrition. It would be a scandal if such vulnerable young people were not thought to be deserving of decent nutrition through meals and milk as of right. I am delighted to learn from my colleague, Councillor Charles Gray, the leader of the Labour group on Strathclyde regional council, that the Scottish Office appears to be taking a civilised view in its interpretation of the measure. I welcome that, and I would welcome still more the hon. Lady's confirmation that the same will be true for meals and milk for mentally handicapped children in the rest of Great Britain.

Hospital discharge and bridging funds worried Sir Roy Griffiths. The Minister must be aware of the many problems which are commonly called the "revolving door syndrome." In the absence of assessment, proper bridging funding and proper arrangements, many people are being discharged from long-stay hospitals to community care which simply does not exist and then find themselves back in hospital. The hon. Lady will be aware of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' letter to the DHSS about the withdrawal of funding from regional health authorities to local authorities, especially in the north-west and the northern region. She will also be aware of the letter from the Association of Directors of Social Services to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is the Chairman of the Social Services Select Committee, expressing its anxiety on these issues.

On 15 March the hon. Lady gave me some replies when I tried to find out whether information on these important matters was kept centrally. She told me that she did not have that information. That is an indication of Government priorities. After all this time we ought to know what the problem is, why there are variations from one part of the country to another and why people are suffering. When people are forced to leave hospital— sometimes after a short stay — they are often thrown into a community which is not prepared to receive them. The hon. Lady must know that relevant legislation exists in the shape of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986.

I was happy to note that Sir Roy Griffiths went a step further on this point. That certainly does not allow the Government to sit back and do nothing at all. It is a scandal that should be dealt with and we cannot claim to be giving priority to community care when there are so many people leaving hospital without proper assessment or arrangements. It is a disgrace by modern civilised standards.

Some aspects of the Act would and should apply to any reasonable strategy for community care. That represents true consumerism. When the 1986 Act, which has not by any means been fully implemented, dealt with the right of advocacy and with representation, when it recognised the needs of carers — for example, women in this country who are saving the Chancellor of the Exchequer about £6 billion a year and whose dedication should not be exploited — when it dealt with the issue of hospital discharge and when even the title referred to consultation, we were attempting to establish that people in the care of the social services were entitled not just to be considered as consumers, but to be treated by society in a way consistent with their rights as fellow citizens.

The Minister may agree that that is not always possible in the absence of resources. Although I disagree with many of Sir Roy Griffiths' recommendations in respect of YTS, competitive tendering, vouchers, and the social fund, I do not see that as any reason for not having a full debate on his recommendations, especially in the light of the cost of producing his report. When he said that we considered that community care was the distant relation and nobody's baby, that reflected his view of successive Governments' attempts to pursue a policy, while not being absolutely clear about resources. Of course local authorities are often concerned that they are asked to carry out duties and responsibilities without the resources being made available. There are wide geographical variations of provision. I have never believed that community care should vary from region to region. There should be national standards based on the local knowledge of councils and of those who deal with those matters, principally the consumers.

I find it difficult to understand why, for example, in Devon, 8,000 people in residential homes receive supplementary benefit compared with 1,000 in the Lothian region, although the population is about the same. Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain the wide variation in home help provision, respite care and occupational therapy. Surely, as a society still rich in resources, we are not prepared just to dismiss the problems of the mentally handicapped and send them into families which are unable to cope, and to leave the elderly to deal with the appalling problem of loneliness unassisted. We should act as a genuine community in response to those problems.

I do not regard this as the major debate on the Griffiths report, but it is a start. In the Audit Commission's withering indictment of Government policies on these matters it said:
"The only option that is not tenable is to do nothing".
I hope that the sheer volume of concern about community neglect and human suffering will shame even the Government into doing something.

12.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
(Mrs. Edwina Currie)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on his success in the ballot and on raising this debate about community care. He has raised many questions and I shall endeavour to answer him in what is inevitably a short debate. I may need to write to him later on some of the topics particularly in respect of detailed examples.

I can answer two of the hon. Gentleman's questions very quickly. First, we do not collect national statistics because we believe firmly in local arrangements. If the hon. Gentleman stays to listen to the next debate on the East Yorkshire health authority, he may hear how that authority is tackling the problems that he has outlined. Secondly, fewer people in Lothian may be obtaining supplementary benefit for care than in Devon because people in Lothian are much better off. The average income in Scotland is the second highest in the United Kingdom. It lags behind only London and the south-east. It is much higher than in my constituency of Derbyshire, South.

The hon. Lady has just confirmed the need for a national survey and for information to be made available on a central basis. She has displayed an appalling ignorance of the problems of Lothian region and of Scotland. If that information were made available nationally, perhaps she would be better informed.

The hon. Gentleman did not call a debate on the problems of Lothian region. I propose to answer his points.

The hon. Gentleman asked particularly about the Griffiths report. As he knows, we asked Sir Roy Griffiths to
"review the way in which public funds are used to support community care policy and to advise …on the options for action that would improve the use of these funds as a contribution to more effective community care."
Sir Roy presented his report on 12 February and we published it shortly afterwards. We have made it clear that we regard it as a basis for discussion, along with the other recent work mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, such as Lady Wagner's report on residential care, the proposals drawn up by Joan Firth in my Department and the timely comments made by the Audit Commission in 1986. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Select Committee on Social Services, which reported in the 1984–85 Session on community care for the adult mentally ill and mentally handicapped. He may recall that I was privileged to be a member of the Committee at that time.

The Government are not suffering from a lack of advice. Sir Roy drew attention to the findings of the Audit Commission to the effect that better value could be obtained from extra resources. We shall take careful note of all that has been said, including the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, and we shall make our views known in due course.

I can report progress on the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, which the hon. Gentleman piloted through the House and which received a great deal of support on both sides of the House, not least from myself. Following the successful outcome of discussions with the local authority associations, sections 5 and 6 of the Act, which relate to the assessment of needs of disabled young people leaving school and which many of us regarded as being very significant, were implemented with effect from 1 February 1988. We implemented sections 4, 8(1), 9 and 10 on 1 April 1987 and we propose to implement section 11 as soon as possible. Discussions have already opened with local authority representatives on section 7, as part of a continuing dialogue on implementation of the Act. My officials intend to resume discussions shortly with the aim of determining costs and a timetable for implementation. Health authorities and the voluntary sector will also need to be consulted. Section 7 is likely to be the next section to be implemented.

As for the sections relating to Scotland, sections 12 and 14 were implemented on 1 June 1987, section 15 was repealed by the National Health Service (Amendment) Act 1986 and section 13 was implemented on 1 February this year. That is the Scottish equivalent of the English sections 5 and 6. Technical sections 16 to 18 were implemented on 16 April 1987.

Further discussions are planned with the local authority associations on the cost of other outstanding sections of the Act, and implementation of those will take place as and when the necessary resources can be made available. I should just remind the hon. Gentleman that some of the sections of the Children Act 1975, which was passed at the beginning of the previous Labour Government, took many more years than that to he implemented.

I would be grateful if I could get on, as the hon. Gentleman has asked me many questions.

The hon. Gentleman knows that community care is the special brief of my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale. As I read through the voluminous literature and papers on this matter, I was struck how often I came across phrases such as "Our aim is to provide better services." Our aim is to do all that we can to strengthen and support a competent and responsible society. The aim should be to help individuals achieve their potential within such a society. That means putting our hospitals, homes, doctors, care-workers, services and so on into some kind of context. They are not the aims but the means by which we achieve our aim.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, most people who need help and care live at home. Most are cared for by their families. Children, particularly mentally handicapped children, are now overwhelmingly at home with their families. As we go up the age scale, that gets harder, as the number of old people now match the numbers in the younger age cohort, which would be the caring cohort, so it becomes relatively more difficult for caring families to manage.

I can offer an example from my own family. My mother was one of 10 siblings. They had little difficulty in caring for their parents. My mother and her brothers and sisters, of whom eight now survive, are all aged between 65 and nearly 90. Between them, the eight produced only seven children. That problem is not just common to Britain but to the western world. The whole pattern of demography in the free world has changed dramatically and some aspects of patterns of care will also have to change.

But other changes are more positive. Elderly people are fit, active and, in large numbers, play a far bigger part in society now than ever before, perhaps not always with a pay packet attached, but with their time and experience. We particularly undervalue the role of such people, particularly in the caring services.

We also forget that elderly people are not a separate species and they expect the same degree of choice and control over their lives as they had when they were younger. The elderly, and those who are mentally ill or handicapped or disabled, are not a separate species but citizens. For them, as for everyone else, the job of the state is to enable them to live their lives to the full and make their contribution to society, whether they are able or disabled, frail, failing or as fit as a fiddle. That is the aim of policy and everything else is a means to that end.

Nor should we forget that the part played by the state, particularly in the provision of services, is much smaller in the overall context than we all imply. We have mentioned the family. We should mention friends and neighbours, particularly in constituencies such as mine, a scattered rural area. We should mention what is called the voluntary sector — that always sounds like a product on a supermarket shelf — and the more formal carers' organisations, many of which existed long before the welfare state was established some 40 years ago.

The state's role is to provide and pay for a great deal of care. Roy Griffiths rightly pushes us to think how that might be organised in future. But the state side is only a small part of the considerable, often unseen, network of care. Let me quote someone who described that far better than I can nearly 200 years ago. It was Tom Paine in "The Rights of Man" who said:
"Society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to Government."
I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has a distinguished record as a Socialist mayor of a great city, will not mind too much if I offer him the words of the philosopher-founder of Socialism as an example of what I am getting at.

The hon. Gentleman particularly mentioned hospital closures and discharges. He knows that the aim of policy is not closure, but the development at a local level of a comprehensive range of well co-ordinated health and social services, matching the range of needs of mentally ill and handicapped people, the elderly and their families. When such local services exist, some hospitals will no longer be needed. The pace of closure is entirely conditioned by the pace of provision of local services. Quality matters more than speed. We say this repeatedly to the health authorities and I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that we mean it.

During the past 30 years most mentally ill patients who were well enough to leave hospital have already left and are now in the community. So far, we share the view that not enough resources have followed the patient out of hospital into the community. The 31 planned closures of large hospitals will help to put that right, and the remaining 70 or so traditional hospitals are becoming much smaller and are playing an important part in their own district services. Further discharges are not in themselves an aim of policy. It is for the consultant in charge and his colleagues to decide whether an individual will benefit from discharge.

A similar position applies to the mentally handicapped. The pace of contraction of the large mental handicap hospitals depends on the development of appropriate short, medium and long-stay provision for the residents. We have advised health authorities to aim to accommodate people in small, homely units based in their local communities. None of that should require the establishment of large hospitals, but some might need units with special facilities.

Again, the scale of future NHS residential provision for mentally handicapped people depends on local estimates, particularly of the number of severely and multiply handicapped people or of behaviourally disturbed or mentally ill people. We also need to learn from experience new ways of meeting the needs of such people for medical and nursing care in small NHS and other settings.

However, I am satisfied with—indeed I am pleased to see — the progress being made. For example, the number of mentally handicapped children in NHS hospitals and hospital units fell from over 7,000 20 years ago to barely 490 in 1986. In October 1986 we stated that provision should be made so that no mentally handicapped child receiving long-term care should need to live in a large mental handicap hospital.

The hon. Lady will recall that I asked her a specific question about school meals and milk for mentally handicapped children and those in special schools. I would be grateful if she would reply to my point.

The hon. Gentleman will know that some aspects of those policies are under discussion, but, broadly speaking, our overall policy has been and is to ensure that people receive benefits in cash rather than in kind. That has been the policy for a long time on both sides of the House. As I recall, it was also the policy of the previous Labour Government. However, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to deal with his point in detail.

The problems of the mentally handicapped are now much better understood in our community. There has been a sea change in services for those people and their families in recent years. I used to be a regular visitor to Monyhull hospital, which was in my ward in Birmingham and which I represented for 11 years. As we made steady progress, one of the porters remarked to me that he could tell the difference because the doctors now had to clean their own cars. It struck me then with great sadness how much we had unwittingly restricted the personal development and happiness of so many thousands of our fellow citizens simply because they had been dubbed "slow" or "in moral danger" decades before in childhood.

The contrast was shown for me up the road outside Collingwood: school in Birmingham for children with special needs when I was chairman of the governors. One day, as I chatted to the then headmaster, Bob Dunn, we were shyly approached by a former pupil. She told us that she was working, and, with great pride, showed us her payslip. The headmaster, with great presence of mind, told her gravely that she was clearly earning more than he was. In another age, in another time, she would have languished all her life in hospital. The alternatives are so much better.

We do have far more difficulty with mental illness. Apart from anything else, the numbers are so much greater. After heart disease, mental illness is the second biggest expense in the Health Service. By 1985–86 the total hospital and community health service cost of mental illness was well over billion, and that does not include, for example, the cost of drugs and care through the family practitioner committees.

I had the figures for mental illness analysed recently and I was surprised to discover the extent to which mental illness is a female problem. In every age group, looking at admissions to hospital for mental illness, women outnumber men. Among men, the commonest diagnoses are schizophrenia and alcohol-related problems, although obviously alcoholism can be an effect of mental illness as well as a cause. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the setting up of a ministerial group on alcohol misuse with membership from 11 Departments, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. We hope to make progress on a wide range of services and policies that will help that group of people.

Among women, the major group is the elderly and the commonest diagnosis is not, as I would have expected, dementia, but depression. The archetypal mental patient in Britain is a depressed old lady and much of that clinical depression may be postponable, if not preventable. At least we can aim to minimise its effects. Therefore, it follows that the pattern of services in the community and the way in which we treat our old people may need to shift to reflect those new patterns of need.

I am satisfied that we are making progress and I share the hon. Gentleman's feeling that we shall continue to need our hospitals and improvement in our community care for many years to come. We will need our hospitals for sanctuary, respite, teaching and training, research and ultimately, of course, for long-stay care.

In the past there has been tension about the relative contributions of the different providers of care. Most notably, there was tension between the hospital or institutional provision and provision in or by the community at large. I do not believe that that conflict is necessary or real. The whole spectrum of care provision is complementary. In our 1987 election manifesto we said:
"Elderly, disabled, mentally ill and mentally handicapped people, should be cared for within the community whenever this is right for them.
In the past some people who should have been cared for in other ways have remained in hospitals, sometimes for years. That is changing … This changing pattern has already brought a better life to many thousands of people. It has the potential to do so for many thousands more."
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in reiterating those words.

East Yorkshire Health Authority

1 pm

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to raise two problems that affect the East Yorkshire health authority. I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security is well aware of them, as I am pleased to say that she visited the authority a week or so ago. The first problem does not necessarily particularly affect any other district health authority. However, I am convinced —unless my hon. Friend can tell me otherwise—that the second problem will certainly affect other district health authorities, and that is why I am raising it now.

The East Yorkshire health authority has not always been successful. It would be silly of me to claim that it has. However, I have no doubt that it is successful now. It delivers services to my constituents and to people in neighbouring constituencies in a way that would draw a certain amount of acclamation from my hon. Friend and her Department. We would be entitled to believe— and I thought that I was entitled to believe—that a successful health authority, like the divine Greta Garbo, has a right to be left alone. I am sorry to report that that is not the case. The East Yorkshire health authority is not being left alone.

The first problem that I want to address to the House involves successive proposals to reorganise health services on the north bank of the Humber. If an attempt at amalgamating East Yorkshire health authority with the Hull health authority had occurred once, I might be entitled to make a small protest. If it had happened twice, I might be entitled to make a rather larger protest. In fact, as my hon. Friend is aware, attempts at amalgamation have not occurred once, twice, or thrice. As far as I can understand from the record, five attempts have been made. Indeed, there might even have been six attempts, depending on one's definition of an attempt at amalgamation. The last attempt occurred this year. The problem is therefore not old. It is still a current issue, or seems to be.

My hon. Friend will be aware of my views on this matter, as they are fairly well known. I lobbied against an amalgamation because I did not see evidence to suggest that the delivery of resources and care for patients would be any greater as a result of amalgamation. A more important consideration, and one that I have applied to local authorities, is that the closer we can get the provision and delivery of services to the consumer, the better.

With that background, my hon. Friend would have been as delighted as I was to receive a copy of the letter that I received on 5 February from the chairman of the Yorkshire regional health authority, who said:
"Dear James,
Whilst we decided not to proceed with the merger"—
now, that was wonderful—
"we did see the need for increased co-operation and collaboration in a number of areas. For this reason we shall be undertaking a full option appraisal on the optimum long term pattern of general hospital services on the North Bank of the Humber for the total population."
I want to reassure my hon. Friend that I am not prepared to argue with that, as that is perfectly legitimate. On the one hand there is an assurance that there will he no merger, and on the other the letter states that an examination must be made of the two health authorities to optimise the services.

However, I received another piece of paper with that letter, which was a recommendation dated 28 January 1988 from the Yorkshire regional health authority. That did not seem to be consistent with the chairman's comments. The recommendation was
"that no action be taken at the present time in respect of possible unification of East Yorkshire and Hull Districts."
I am bound to draw the attention of the House, my hon. Friend and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that after six attempts at amalgamation we are entitled to know what "at the present time" means. I am entitled to construe that perhaps it means that someone else will have yet another go at amalgamation. We would be forgiven for thinking that perhaps that would happen not in five or 10 years' time, but in five or 10 months' time. There is therefore a certain lack of consistency in the signals coming from the Yorkshire regional health authority.

With regard to that inconsistency, I have the minutes of a meeting held on 21 March between the regional health authority and the East Yorkshire district health authority and Hull health authority. The minutes state that the chairman of the Hull health authority
"indicated that as far as Hull was concerned, the districting issue was finished."
The regional health authority chairman, Mr. Brian Askew, said that it was
"time that the districting issue was forgotten."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
(Mrs. Edwina Currie)

Districting?

Yes.

If ever I had a confused set of signals, it must be those that I have described to my hon. Friend. Although I may have been entitled to a certain amount of levity on this subject, the serious point is that the regional health authority and my hon. Friend have responsibility to clear up the issue. In saying that, I am not ruling out the fact that we will not look at the whole of Yorkshire or any other part of the country to find a better system of organising the Health Service in future. We may do that, but I am wholly against this piecemeal organisational tinkering which leaves my constituents not knowing which health authority will be in place at any given time.

That also means that the managers within the health authority do not have much confidence in their jobs and how to do them, because they do not know who they are working for. If the authority was a business, the company involved would have a continual takeover threat hanging over it. With such a sword of Damocles hanging over it, how can we possibly expect managers in the East Yorkshire health authority to deal confidently with their jobs and manage the health authority properly?

I humbly submit that under the laughable circumstances that I have outlined, they cannot be expected to do their jobs properly. The managers are doing their best, and they are doing their jobs well, but I would not be surprised if some of them were beginning to wonder what was happening. I therefore want a little clarification of the Government's view of the lack of direction from the regional health authority.

Problems seem to come in multiples for East Yorkshire health authority. The second one relates to the fact that it has with a vengeance got on and done its job. As my hon. Friend knows, it started with 12 inefficient and poorly utilised hospitals, which resulted in a waste of resources. Having established that that was the case, the chairman, the general manager and the board set about considering how to use their resources better and, with everyone's cooperation, reduced 12 inefficient hospitals to seven more efficient hospitals, which is exactly what my hon. Friend, the Government and the community want.

That move freed a large amount of revenue which the authority believed, perhaps naively, it could use to improve its resources. Its property sales during the past three years having been worth £2·5 million, which is a considerable sum, it intended to use the money to transform Castle Hill hospital in Cottingham into a district general hospital, which was an eminently sensible decision. That has only partially been implemented.

The nub of the problem is that that which you have is not necessarily yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because, at a regional health authority meeting, decisions were made on what is called resource allocation, and the minutes state:
"It is therefore recommended that the planned reduction of allocation to East Yorkshire be commenced in 1988–89 by a reduction of £1 million."
All this is a week or so before the new financial year starts, so the problems have been compounded. The minutes continue:
"This then creates the sum"—
it certainly does—
"of £1 million for redistribution within the Region and the RHA is recommended to agree to the following proposals."
The proposals are that East Yorkshire should get back £250,000 of its own money for improvements to be agreed in cardi-thoracic services. It is also fortunate enough to get back a further £250,000 to be held for mental health bridging purposes as proposed by the authority. Details of the programmes are to be agreed by the regional health authority.

That is all right thus far, but the third recommendation is that £500,000 should go to Hull health authority in recognition of its overall RAWP position. There it is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A district health authority creates £2·5 million by getting rid of unused and inefficient resources and it then thinks, "How shall we use those resources for the benefit of our patients?" It then decides to create a district general hospital and embarks upon the project but, all of a sudden, part of the resources are taken away from it and given to someone else. If ever there was an example of banditry at work, I am entitled to say that this is it. East Yorkshire health authority may be forgiven for thinking that it had acted in accordance with the Government's policies. I believe that it has, and if it has not no doubt my hon. Friend will tell me, but it certainly seems to have struck the wrong chord with the Yorkshire regional health authority.

As I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware, at least two other district health authorities in Yorkshire which are also significantly above their RAWP allocations have not had a reallocation of resources in the bandit-like manner that I have just outlined. I suspect that there is a pretty good reason for that: they did not have the foresight of East Yorkshire health authority to divest themselves of resources that they did not want and use the money to improve patient services, which is what they should have done.

The message is that district health authorities must beware of selling assets which they do not require. Any district health authority that decides to sell its unwanted assets should beware, because there may be a robber somewhere — in the form of another district health authority—ready to nab that money if it has the ear of its regional health authority. It follows that I do not understand the logic of the decision made by Yorkshire health authority. That is not to say that I do not recognise the problems of Hull district health authority. It would be silly of me to say that. The authority has resource problems, and it must cater for patients who originate from the area of the East Yorkshire health authority. But that problem will diminish by allowing East Yorkshire to keep its cash and build its district general hospital. Then it will have the facilities to cater for its own patients. That, not the reallocation of resources, is how to reduce the problem.

It would idle of me not to suggest to the House and to everyone who is fair-minded — I have no reason to believe that my hon. Friend is other than fair-minded— that it will be exceedingly difficult to motivate not only East Yorkshire but any other health authority to divest itself of assets that it does not need when it cannot be sure of keeping those resources. It does not make good horse sense, and I repeat that other district health authorities should beware of what happened in East Yorkshire.

I am also entitled to question the figure of 6.1 per cent. above RAWP target for East Yorkshire for 1988–89. All the figures available to me from the health authority show that there has been a rapid increase of between 20 and 30 per cent. in the number of patients being treated. The regional health authority is using historical figures, and the clear message is that the authority should use more up-to-date figures. It is ludicrous to reduce the allocation while activities are increasing.

After that endless parody of a case that I would not have believed unless I had seen it in action, I wait with bated breath to hear my hon. Friend's comments.

1.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
(Mrs. Edwina Currie)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) on winning a place in the ballot. In the short time that he has been in the House he has shown a keen interest in health and welfare matters. I do not know whether he realises it, but so far he has written me 35 letters and tabled 10 questions, and now he has taken up the cause in debate. He is one of the most active of the new intake, and I commend to his constituents, whom he represents so well, his persistent but courteous approach to Ministers, which I am sure will bear fruit.

East Yorkshire health authority covers most of the area known by the old and much-missed name of the East Riding of Yorkshire. It includes the hinterland of Hull, but not the city itself, which has its own health authority. We expect the East Yorkshire and Hull health authorities to work closely together, with Scarborough to the north and York to the west, to plan and provide services for the people of the entire neighbourhood. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree with that, although I understand his misgivings about formal mergers. I hope that he can support the co-operation that I have just mentioned, since we hope to provide a high standard of cost-effective service to the people of Yorkshire. I note that he is nodding in assent.

I take up with my hon. Friend the word "districting", which I believe he used when quoting from a health authority document. I hope that our friends in Yorkshire, whatever else they may be doing so brilliantly, will be careful about the surgery that they are performing on the English language. I think that they meant the discussion of mergers or boundary changes.

As my hon. Friend will know, the funding of the NHS has increased substantially. This year we will be spending £21 billion on the NHS, and next year we will be spending £22 billion. For the hospital and community health services in England, for which I have responsibility, funding has increased from £8·1 billion in 1982–83 to £11·5 billion this year. This is an increase of 38 per cent. in cash and 11 per cent. in real terms over a five-year period. We might use that to reflect on the 2 per cent. per annum growth that some critics will call for. We have already been getting that level of growth.

Funding for Yorkshire regional health authority has risen from £583 million in 1982–83 to £818 million this year. This is an increase of 40 per cent. in cash and 12 per cent. in real terms, which is slightly more than the national average.

This year East Yorkshire health authority will be spending £40 million. It has also received £80,000 under the waiting list initiative for two of its projects, and it has added to that from its own resources, as my hon. Friend described. Its costs improvement programme amounts to some £820,000, which is 2·1 per cent. of its budget. According to my figures, it also has available £1·25 million this year from land sales.

Those are substantial figures and they reflect considerable credit on the health authority. Indeed, they would reflect credit on health authorities twice its size. I hope that some of the bigger health authorities, including those elsewhere in Yorkshire, to which my hon. Friend referred, whose performances are, shall we say, more sluggish, will take due note of what they have been up to in East Yorkshire health authority. If they are not taking due note, we are. I assure my hon. Friend of that. I take seriously his point about incentives.

Many health authorities have developed a good record of improvements in service—quality, quantity and cost-effectiveness — under the guidance of the Government. East Yorkshire has a much better record than many, particularly in the vigorous examination of patterns of work, which have often been long established, the release through planned change of additional resources —through its own efforts — and the intelligent reapplication of those funds to improve local health care. In 1986–87 East Yorkshire achieved cost improvements of £1·36 million, which was just under 3·5 per cent. of the budget. In 1987–88 it will, as I have mentioned, achieve improvements of £818,000, which is 2·1 per cent. of its budget, and next year it hopes to achieve £865,000, or 2·2 per cent. It has achieved that by careful scrutiny of, for example, domestic support services, portering, transport and energy conservation measures, which released £116,000 in 1986–87 and will release a further £55,000 in the year to come.

As my hon. Friend said, I saw all that myself last week when I visited Castle Hill hospital at Cottingham to open the new cardio-thoracic wards. The new wards form part of the major upgrading of the cardio-thoracic facilities that serve the four Humberside health authorities — East Yorkshire, Hull, Grimsby and Scunthorpe—and part of north Yorkshire. It is a magnificent development and demonstrates the commitment of the Government, the Yorkshire regional health authority and the district health authorities to improving the services for patients suffering from coronary heart disease.

I greatly enjoyed my visit. The sun shone and everybody was dancing around like lambs with two tails. They were so pleased with the new facilities. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would pass on my appreciation to all his constituents and to Mr. Hooper, the chairman of the East Yorkshire health authority, Mr. Nichols, his district general manager, Mr. Nair and Mr. Moghissi, the consultant surgeons and all the staff and patients for their kindness and hospitality during my visit.

The food that I had was some of the best I have ever tasted. Indeed, I asked for the recipes. It was the first health authority lunch that I have attended in recent times where non-alcoholic drinks were served throughout, and I suspect that the conversation was all the better for it.

The darker side of British life, particularly in Yorkshire, was also brought home to me a little later when, in one of the wards, I met a young girl not yet 30 who was being treated for lung disease. She had been a cigarette smoker since childhood. I was moved that day, as I always am, at meeting so many people suffering from what we now know to be preventable diseases. The Yorkshire regional health authority and the local district health authorities in Yorkshire are taking those matters seriously and have increased their health promotion budget in ways that we hope will bear fruit in years to come.

The new cardio-thoracic wards are not the only capital developments at Castle Hill and in the East Yorkshire health authority. For example, in January work was started at Castle Hill on a major project to build a new surgical unit that will comprise four operating theatres, four wards and a day ward. I could see that work proceeding apace during my visit. In addition, on 5 March the new Bridlington community hospital, which is managed by the East Yorkshire health authority and which was built at a cost of about £16 million, took its first patients. I well remember my hon. Friend's question to me about the new hospital on 27 October, when he reminded me that it was completed ahead of time. That hospital will provide 200 beds for acute elderly and maternity patients, a 60-place day hospital, an operating theatre suite, outpatient departments and support facilities. It is a splendid development and it will clearly make a major contribution to improving health services in East Yorkshire.

I refer now to my hon. Friend's point about the £1 million reduction in the allocation. As he will know, the distribution of resources to district health authorities is a matter for the regional health authority concerned—in this case, the Yorkshire region. Cl