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Commons Chamber

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 5 June 1990

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 5 June 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Health

Cancelled Operations

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the maximum and minimum number of operating theatre sessions cancelled by district health authorities last year.

Four districts reported no cancelled scheduled operating theatre sessions in 1988–89 and one reported just over 2,000 cancelled sessions.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. Does he agree that the figures that he has just given show yet again that there are enormous discrepancies in the performances of different health authorities? Does he further agree that if only the less efficient could improve their performance, they could deliver far more health care for the same amount of money?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes. He made a good point. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have pointed out the enormous discrepancy within health districts in the efficient use of operating theatres. The Bevan report shows that across the country the average utilisation is 70 per cent. If that were raised to 90 per cent., there would be a saving to the National Health Service of £100 million. The reforms that we intend to introduce next April will help to achieve that.

What steps are being taken to increase the average utilisation figure? Would improved information technology help, especially when patients do not turn up or when notes are not available to the surgeon carrying out the operation?

Improved technology certainly has a part to play and our response to the Bevan report recognises that. We are currently consulting on the lessons to be learnt from that report and we expect to issue guidance soon.

Was not there a recent case of an ophthalmic surgeon working in the Health Service carrying out more operations in one month than another ophthalmic surgeon carried out in six months? Do not NHS patients have the right to expect unanimity of good service, wherever they may live? Is not that the most important reason for the review of the NHS?

During my three and a half weeks in the job, that specific case has not been drawn to my attention. However, the principle espoused by my hon. Friend is right. We are introducing reforms next April to try to achieve that unanimity of service throughout the country.

Community Care

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on earmarked grants to local authorities for the purpose of community care.

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on earmarked grants to local authorities for the purpose of community care.

Local authorities are responsible for determining the use of the resources on matters for which they have policy responsibility and for which they are accountable. The House welcomed the Government's decision to make community care the prime responsibility of local government, and earmarked grants would be inconsistent with that decision.

I am sorry to hear the Secretary of State's response, although I am not surprised by it. Is he aware of the anxiety throughout social services departments that there will not be sufficient grant to meet the demand for community care? Is he further aware of the London Research Centre report, published in April, which suggested that there would be a shortfall of £100 million rising to £500 million by 1994? Will he consider specific grants to meet such shortfalls, should they arise?

We have always made it clear that local authorities need, and will receive, adequate resources to carry out their new responsibilities. Those resources will be decided during the public expenditure round. It is rather premature to produce reports, from any source, about the inadequacy of resources before we have even decided what those resources will be.

One difficulty with earmarked grants is that it is impossible to separate that area of expenditure from what is already being spent on care in the community, which in large part is already a local authority responsibility. remind the hon. Gentleman that while the Government have been in power total spending on care in the community has risen by 68 per cent. in real terms—that is more than half as much again as was being spent when we took office and before we introduced our popular arrangements.

On 6 December the former junior Minister made a speech of glowing support for community care when he addressed the annual general meeting of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship. Is not it a cruel deception of such bodies that there is a distinction between the Government's aims and the methods that they use? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that earmarked grants should be available to areas such as north Derbyshire so that they can meet the provisions referred to in Government statements?

My junior Ministers move on to greater things so rapidly that I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to a speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office or my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, but if he was addressing the National Schizophrenia Fellowship I have no doubt that the reference was, above all, to the specific grant that we have made it clear that we shall be introducing to encourage community care for mentally ill people. A specific grant for that area is important because in the past it has not been given high enough priority by local authorities. Therefore, money aimed specifically at mental illness will be allocated to local authorities when they produce plans that are satisfactory to the health authorities.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend comfirm that, whether earmarked or not, grants given to local authorities from next April will represent the sums that hitherto would have been paid in social security benefits? Is he yet able to give the formula by which the figures will be calculated or an estimate of the sum involved? I am sure that he appreciates the difficulties of local authorities in making their plans from next April without knowing what resources will be available to them.

We are firmly committed to transferring from the Department of Social Security vote to our vote and to local government the sum of money that would have been spent by the Department of Social Security under the old policy of making provision through income support for people in residential care. We also have to make a calculation for growth and a calculation of what is available for this year, and we shall do that when we make the decision on the revenue support grant for local government. I appreciate the difficulties for local government in having to make plans when final decisions have not been reached on exactly how much will be available next year, but that is inescapable in the system of annual financial planning that we have always had. It is true of the whole range of government, under this Government or any other, that we have to wait for the autumn spending round before we know exactly how much we have for the next year. Neither the Treasury and Civil Service Committee nor anybody else has yet come up with a better way of doing it.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend had a chance to consider the sad and moving story that appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post last Friday about Colin Jago, a schizophrenia sufferer, who slipped so tragically through the community care net? Will he have a look at that story to see whether any lessons can be learnt for our policy on care in the community?

I agree that the story of Colin Jago is tragic. It shows what a dreadful way of life he led as a result of suffering from schizophrenia. I shall ask the chairman of the district health authority to let me have a report on his case to see whether there are any lessons to be learnt.

That is sheer hypocrisy. The Secretary of State is allowing the mental illness unit for adolescents to close.

Before the hon. Gentleman stoops any further to try to make party political points out of a tragic individual case—

People must make their own judgment about where hypocrisy lies in the matter, and loud-mouthed barracking does not help.

I should point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) that Colin Jago was examined and interviewed by a doctor at Mapperley hospital, who decided that it was not necessary to admit him to hospital for treatment. However, we must discover the full facts to see whether there are any lessons to be learnt from Mr. Jago's sad death.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that Sir Roy Griffiths recommended an earmarked grant, that the local authorities, including the Conservative ones, want an earmarked grant, and that now the other place has voted for it? Even flagship Wandsworth has made representations to the Secretary of State supporting the case for a ring-fenced grant. Why does he disagree with everybody else if it is not that he is afraid that an earmarked grant will make it only too plain that he cannot come up with the cash that the councils need to make care in the community work?

Because good government depends on clear responsibility and accountability, and I have not been persuaded that it is right to give responsibility for this matter to local government and then for the House or any Government to try to keep to themselves part of the responsibility for determining the level of resources. No one in Wandsworth or anywhere else would want the Government to determine the total level of resources available. There is also a practical problem with an earmarked grant. I do not understand how it is proposed to distinguish the earmarked grant, made with whatever new money we might make available, from all the moneys already being spent on care in the community by local government, which already provides home helps, meals on wheels, and so on. I do not believe that it is practicable and nor, for the reasons that I have given, am I persuaded that it is desirable.

Social Workers

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to assist in the recruitment of local authority social workers.

It is for local authorities themselves, as employers, to take whatever steps are appropriate to recruit the staff whom they need.

Did the Minister hear the Prime Minister praising the work of child helplines the other day, when she said that we must make sure that enough telephones are provided and that sufficient volunteers are available to man them? Is not it a little hypocritical of the Prime Minister to make that remark when the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work states that an extra 800 social workers need to be trained each year to maintain the present level of services?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was praising the work of Childline, which uses volunteers and provides an excellent service. We pay £300,000 towards the cost of that service. The CCETSW has responsibility for training, and we have substantially increased its funding. There are significantly more people—about 4·5 per cent. more—joining the profession each year than leaving it. Of course, we continue to have discussions with employers and with the CCETSW to ensure that there is an adequate supply of social workers to undertake important tasks, in addition to the volunteers to whom the hon. Gentleman referred.

Does my hon. Friend agree that social services recruits not only need university degrees or to be armed with diplomas in humanities but should be streetwise? Would not it be a good idea to recruit mothers whose children have grown up—and perhaps even younger grandmothers—because such women have raised families, are streetwise, and are not as green as grass?

I entirely support my hon. Friend. In my view, streetwise grandmothers are precisely the people who should be undertaking work with young families. The work that we do in training social workers ensures broad entry. It is not the case that it is only 18 or 19-year-old undergraduates whom we want to attract. We seek to recruit also the mature woman who has experience. I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's words when I next meet those responsible.

Health Care, Nottingham

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he next plans to visit Strelley health centre, Nottingham to discuss standards of health care.

Is the Minister aware that there is great concern at Strelley and other health centres about the Government's policy on preventive medicine? Is he further aware that 2·5 million fewer people have received free eye tests than in the previous year? Eye tests can detect serious illnesses such as cancer and kidney disease, and other conditions. Will the Minister admit at the Dispatch Box, on his first day in the job, that it was a terrible mistake to charge people for eye tests that were previously free?

No, I am unaware of any of those things. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to represent his arguments in tomorrow's debate. I have not the slightest doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, who is replying to that debate, will be able to knock the hon. Gentleman out of the water.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) is almost the local Member of Parliament concerned, and I am sure that he agrees that his constituents and mine receive excellent service under the National Health Service provision in the city of Nottingham. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that health centres are growing not only in number but in excellence? I ask him to join in paying tribute to the chairman of the district health authority, Mr. David White, and to all those involved in Health Service provision in the city of Nottingham.

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Mr. White. As he said, my constituents also benefit from the considerable improvement in health care made over the past few years in Nottingham. The city has two major general hospitals, and has seen a 9·2 per cent. increase in direct care staff in the Health Service over the past five years. It has also seen a 22 per cent. increase in in-patient cases and a 22 per cent. fall in the average general practitioners' list. That is an enormous improvement in health care in Nottingham, from which my constituents, among others, benefit.

Community Health Councils

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the future of community health councils.

Has the Minister read the leaked letter—published in the National Union of Public Employees journal recently—from the Secretary of State for Social Security, which showed that the answer given to the House is not as accurate as suggested? The letter states that it is the Government's intention to do away with the right of community health councils to complain about such things as hospitals opting out. If that is the case, will the Minister admit it, and if it is not, will he officially deny it? Consumers of health care are getting sick of their democratic rights being taken away.

I am afraid that I am not an avid reader of the NUPE journal, but I can confirm that no change is envisaged for the role of the community health council when a district health authority proposes the closure of a hospital.

I welcome the reassurance that my hen. Friend has given, but will he reflect on the fact that while community health councils can be a useful sound-board for local opinion on the health services that are provided, it is the membership of the health authority that has executive control over local allocation of resources? A key issue in future is to try to ensure that the range of authority members and their responsiveness to local opinion is such that they can bring influence to bear and reflect public opinion in the provision of health services.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the changes that will be introduced next April are intended to emphasise the executive nature of health authorities. That leaves an important role for the community health councils. In many ways it will be an enhanced role after April. It creates the opportunity for them to become more concerned with the development of the service in the area for which they are responsible.

Will the Minister publish for the relevant community health council any draft business plan that has been submitted to his Department or any draft application for self-governing trust status? Will he also publish for the relevant community health council a copy of his Department's response to any such draft papers, to ensure that the council is effectively able to represent local opinion when a hospital in its area is deciding whether to opt out?

I shall not undertake to publish draft business plans, but I give the undertaking, which my right hon. and learned Friend has given many times, that the community health councils will be fully consulted on any proposal to establish a self-governing trust.

Will community health councils be able to do much that Members of Parliament who are active in their constituencies cannot do? Given that circumstance, does my hon. Friend think that if the councils did not exist at this time tomorrow, they would be missed, or that they are much loved?

My hon. Friend is an active Member of Parliament. If everyone was as active as him, he might have a point. Community health councils have a significant part to play in the future of the Health Service, by representing proper concerns when major changes are envisaged and as a consultee in the future development of the Health Service. I hope that in future the councils, in the same way as other bodies are concerned with health issues, will be more interested in output by the Health Service than in input.

Nhs Trusts

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what information he has on how many ballots have been held in hospitals which are considering opting out; and whether any of these have shown a majority in favour of such a course of action.

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what evidence he has of the views of National Health Service staff or patients on the formation of self-governing trusts.

No Government have ever thought it sensible for changes in management of NHS services to be subject to ballots. Applications for NHS trust status will not be invited until Parliament has approved the necessary legislation. Staff and members of the public will then have an opportunity to express their views on individual proposals before any decisions are taken. I prefer the usual process of consultation rather than public referendum on such complicated and specialist issues.

A total of 195 units have so far expressed an interest in NHS trust status, with some 80 stating that they may seek trust status in 1991. That demonstrates the keen interest with which senior NHS staff, including members of the medical and nursing profession, view the prospect of establishing NHS trusts.

In the light of that response, will the Secretary of State tell us the definition of the electorate when such decisions are reached? Surely all categories of staff and existing, past and potential patients must be involved in the decisions as well as the community health councils, which have already been referred to. Has he established any criteria on which he will say no?

Of course, the staff of the National Health Service are a key part of it. They deliver the service and we depend on their dedication. However, we have never operated any type of worker control and the public have an interest in those matters as well. The founding of the National Health Service was not made subject to local ballots and I can recall no change in the 40 years since then that has been made in that way. We shall have a full process of consultation and I will refuse applications unless I am satisfied from all the information that comes in from the consultation that, if granted, a particular application will lead to a better quality of service for patients in that hospital and better value for money for all those interested in the National Health Service.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in ballots held across the country, huge majorities have been returned that are opposed to hospitals opting out of the National Health Service? Is he further aware that almost every organisation connected with the National Health Service—the Health Service trade unions, the community health councils, Health Service charities and voluntary organisations—is equally opposed to hospitals being allowed to opt out of the National Health Service? As the Health Service belongs to the people, why does not the Minister let the people decide by ensuring that there are ballots in every area affected before any hospital is allowed to opt out of the Health Service?

I am against any hospital opting out of the National Health Service. If people go round asking daft questions, they get daft answers, which is not a very positive contribution to running a better National Health Service. We shall have a full process of public consultation on what local people are proposing in the places that go ahead with an application for NHS trust status. The Labour party is bereft of any serious contributions. Instead of putting forward its own ideas on how we might go back to more local discretion and control in running the Health Service, it leaves the whole matter to the ridiculous local ballots being run by councils, unions and other people.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend admit to the House that the drive for NHS self-governing status comes from his Department through the chairmen of the regions and the chairmen of the districts, all of whom are party political appointments? Will he state genuinely to the House that if it is the view of local people, and especially if it is the view of consultants, doctors, nurses and paramedics working in a hospital, that they do not wish to go for self-governing status, he will refuse that application?

I do not only not admit, but I strongly deny my hon. Friend's allegation and his ridiculous travesty of our appointment process—[Interruption.]

If the appointments were party political, I should have complaints from the Opposition about them. The applications for self-governing status are coming from people concerned with the hospitals and units themselves. It is rather absurd that when, in effect, we go back to a system very similar to the old hospital management boards, which gives back far more local control at the sharp end of delivery over how the Service is run, we are opposed in this way. I well remember the Labour party fiercely fighting the establishment of the district health authorities and the regional health authorities, which it now says should run the Service. Eighteen years ago, the Labour party argued vehemently that it was wrong to take away local control of hospitals. I have undergone a conversion in those 18 years and I am inclined to think that the Labour party was right. The trouble is that the Labour party just opposes any change at any moment.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked a question and the Minister did not——

Order. That is not a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman were asking to raise the matter on the Adjournment, that would be different.

On a calmer note, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if there is a proposal for a management area change and then the idea of a self-governing trust, it could cause extra delays, and that, if there is an erosion of services and facilities, as at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, there is a danger of that hospital's future being severely threatened? Will my right hon. and learned Friend pay attention to that and say what he intends to do about it and when our colleague the Minister for Health will visit the hospital?

I have visited that hospital and I certainly recommend my hon. Friend the Minister for Health to visit it if she has the opportunity. I understand the need to resolve some of the uncertainties surrounding the future of the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital. I shall certainly ensure, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of Health will too, that nothing connected with NHS reforms causes further delay or creates fresh difficulties for all those who work in that excellent hospital.

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that he could sidestep all questions on local ballots if he would simply agree to a timetable that first put the proposals to the general electorate so that electors who had no opportunity to comment in the last election will have an opportunity to vote on them in the next one? I warn the Secretary of State that, if he persists in bulldozing through the proposals for opt-out without giving local people any voice, the next Labour Government will take back all those hospitals into local health authority control.

I have had a look at the draft manifesto that the Labour party prepared for the next election. It seems to be so vague on management issues that I came to the view that it was voting to make no changes in particular to whatever it inherited if and when it got back into power. I am absolutely astonished that the hon. Gentleman is now committing himself to making no changes to the way in which the National Health Service is run, without submitting any proposals that he might have for local ballots in the future. If we ever had a Labour Government, it might reduce the dangers of dangerous action, but I do not think that a Labour Government would adopt such a foolish process.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that a growing number of senior doctors, nurses and paramedics in the two district health authorities in my area are growing increasingly excited at the thought that they may have an opportunity to shorten the administrative hierarchy that constantly second-guesses their judgments, frequently to their detriment?

I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend says. I know that quite a lot of those who are interested in NHS trust status are, among other things, looking forward to being free of the day-to-day control of their district, region or other parts of the system. There certainly is widespread enthusiasm. I disapprove of all the ballots, whatever the electorate is. It is a selective way of looking at the interests of everybody who has a common interest in the NHS—it does not belong to the staff. So far, five of the ballots among consultants have been in favour and seven have been against. I hope that everybody will wait until they have a proper application and then go through a sensible process of consultation, making whatever representations they want. That will enable me to make a better-informed judgment in the end, which is in the interests of the Health Service and its patients.

Dental Checks

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will now remove the charge on dental checks.

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will now remove the charge on dental checks.

I see no reason to do so. It is right that adults who can afford to do so should make a contribution to this part of their dental care.

Are not dental checks an important part of preventive medicine? Has the Secretary of State noticed that independent research shows that the number of dental checks is falling? Although that may save money, is not it bad for the health of Government policy?

I think that dental checks are important, which is why I think that those who can afford to do so will willingly pay £3·45 for a dental check. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that 40 per cent. of the population is exempt from any charge. I know of no evidence of a sustained decline in the number of dental checks. Indeed, over any lengthy period, there has been a steady increase in the number of dental checks and in the total number of dental treatments in the National Health Service.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend encourage the dental practice board to make available treatment under the EC 18 certificate? I understand that recently the board was denied all knowledge of it and that therefore some patients have been paying for their treatment.

I am not aware of those problems. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing them to my attention. I shall take up the matter with the dental health board and let my hon. Friend have a written response to her question.

Further to the answer to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have been talking to dentists, because all the dental surgeons to whom I have spoken over the past few months have said clearly that only people in two income categories can afford a full, prolonged and comprehensive system of dental care—those on full state benefits who do not have to pay and those in an income category such that they can afford to pay—and that the bulk of people, who fall somewhere between the two, are cutting their dental treatment because of the cost. How can the Secretary of State deduce from that that there is no downturn in preventive medicine?

Of course, similar representations are made to me by dentists whenever dental charges are raised generally, in line with the longstanding policy of this Government and of previous Labour Governments. However, it is clear that over any sustained period there has been a steady increase in the number of dental treatments given under the National Health Service. Over a lengthy period I expect to see a continued and satisfactory level of dental check-ups. I do not believe that for the 60 per cent. of the population who are asked to pay, £3·45 is a deterrent charge for a perfectly reasonable part of any individual's preventive medicine—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to hon. Members to listen to the questions and not to conduct private conversations, which is disruptive.

Is not it true that the new dental contract will, for the first time, pay dentists a fee for the regular patients on their list, without requiring any contribution from the patients? Although it is understandable that dentists feel some concern about the details, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a positive vote from dentists in the forthcoming ballot on the new contract would be a vote for prevention and would provide a much-needed shift in emphasis towards better dental health?

Yes, I agree. The new contract will enable dentists to offer patients all-round continuing care, including emergency cover, treatment plans, better information and the replacement, free of charge, of certain restorations that fail within 12 months, and so on. I have agreed the new contract with the dentists' representatives and they are commending it to their members. I very much hope that the dentists will vote in favour of the new contract, which represents a substantial improvement in our dental services, for which many dentists have been pressing for many years.

How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House that there is no evidence of a decline when the Minister for Health told the House in February that there had been a slight dip and when in May his Department reported a reduction of 700,000 cases, thus bucking the upward trend throughout Europe? Does the Secretary of State accept that he has got his figures wrong and will he go back and do his homework—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will hon. Members, especially those below the Gangway, desist from conducting private conversations, which are very disruptive?

Does the Secretary of State accept that he has plainly got his figures—and his policies—wrong?

There was a dip, but I referred to long-term trends. There is always a dip—I have no doubt that this was the case when the Labour Government were in power—when charges are increased for any part of NHS services. However, over the years, the dips are not sustained. I repeat that I do not believe that £3·45 is a deterrent charge for the 60 per cent. of the population who are liable to pay the charge, and nor do I believe that any evidence will be forthcoming to demonstrate that it is.

Cottage Hospitals

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what policy changes his Department has instituted during the last six months with regard to cottage hospitals; and if he will make a statement.

There has been no change in the position. It is for health authorities to determine the pattern of services in their own locality.

Is the Minister aware of the comments by the Secretary of State on 10 October when he said that the Government's new funding arrangements would ensure that

"popular cottage hospitals will thrive"?
As there are now six small cottage hospitals under the axe for closure in my county, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether that is because a different policy is being pursued in Wales or because there has been a change of policy in the Department of Health, which means that such hospitals in England are in as much danger as are those in Wales?

No, Sir. There has been no change of policy. The same policy is pursued in Wales and England. The policy is to allow greater delegation of decision-making to local level. Where there is a genuine and sustained local demand for a community hospital, that will be seen in the purchasing decisions taken from next April onwards.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the cottage hospital provides a signal service in rural areas, especially where travelling distances are great? Does he recognise that there is a feeling in the southern part of my constituency that Herefordshire district health authority is being frustrated in its attempt to redevelop Ross cottage hospital into a community hospital by a less than fully co-operative attitude on the part of West Midlands regional health authority? Will he be careful that any advice that he gives to the regional health authorities reflects the wish to sustain the viability and independence of the health authority to provide what it deems to be appropriate for an area and that no element of discouragement floats in?

One great virtue of our reforms is that we shall be rather less heavy handed than we may have been in the past in the type of advice that we offer from the centre to a district health authority. I believe that as a result there will be greater diversity of local decisions and of health care available and the manner in which it is provided. We hope that that will lead to improved standards and more uniformity in the quality of health care, which in the end is what the patient is interested in.

Has the Minister considered the possibility of setting up a royal commission to look into cottage hospitals with a view to safeguarding their future? He could put in charge a man who is desperate for a job—he sits below the Gangway—and who is the last leader of the SDP. He has done a good job for the Tory party over the years and the Minister could repay him the compliment.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concern about his future well-being.

Doctors (Recruitment)

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to meet members of the medical practices committee to discuss the recruitment of doctors.

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many general practitioners there are now in the National Health Service.

The Department holds regular meetings with the chairman of the medical practices committee. We are not aware of problems with regard to the recruitment of doctors. At 1 October 1988 there were 25,322 unrestricted principals in England. That is 4,000 more than in 1979.

Does my hon. Friend agree that not inconsiderable delays can occur between the practice obtaining approval to recruit a general practitioner and the recruitment taking place and that that is to the clear detriment of the local community? Therefore, when she next meets the chairman of the medical practices committee, will she ask him to introduce a more rigorous monitoring system that will ensure that appointments are made in under a year and that if a practice does not intend to take advantage of it, the opportunity to have a new doctor is given to another practice?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about the matter, particularly the case which arose in his constituency. Time is needed to advertise and to interview prospective candidates and, of course, for new appointees to give notice. Certainly, I shall examine closely the point made and raise it with the relevant committee the next time I meet it.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply and I welcome the increased number of GPs, which shows the Government's commitment to the NHS. Will she confirm that GP list sizes have dropped dramatically in the past couple of years? Does she agree that the GP now has more time to deal with the individual patient, which is in the interest of the GP, the patient and the NHS?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For the first time, the GP list size has fallen below 2,000. That is a major achievement. Not only do we have smaller list sizes, but the GP has at his disposal a much larger practice team. There has been 70 per cent. increase in the number of ancillary staff in the practice. That all means better care for patients.

How many general practitioners will run their own budgets next year? Is there any truth in the rumour in the press last weekend that the software will not be available for GPs to run their budgets?

The whole proposal to have budget holders is going well, and about 400 practices have expressed an interest. Clearly, they will not be finally approved until we are confident that they can undertake the responsibilities. A practice budget will provide general practitioners with more autonomy and control. GPs are willing to join the scheme and we welcome the steps forward. We are making good progress with the software and we are confident that it will be possible fully to implement the proposals.

Community Care

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he next expects to meet the Association of Directors of Social Services to discuss community care.

I hold regular formal and informal meetings with the ADSS, but there is no fixed date for the next meeting.

When the Minister meets the directors of social services will she agree to provide the additional necessary funds, as promised in the report of Sir Roy Griffiths, to maintain services to the elderly, the mentally ill and other people in need? Will she consider funding the additional social workers that will be necessary to meet the demand for social work? Will she also consider the suggestion of creating a Minister of Community Care?

Indeed, but when I meet the ADSS, which is frequently, as I made clear, I shall speak again about the vast sums already spent on community care—about £3·5 billion—as well as about the importance of new policies and ensuring that those resources are spent effectively and well in the interests of the individuals concerned. We have made it clear that adequate resources will be available and we are working openly and in close consultation with the ADSS on that popular policy.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

As this is World Environment Day, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the United Nations award to her? Is not it a fact that my right hon. Friend's recent decision to limit CO2 emissions in 2005 to the present levels will represent about a 30 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions from the projected levels? Surely this will mean substantial sacrifices on the part of energy consumers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, I welcome the award as a recognition of the lead that the Government have taken on environmental matters. We have put forward a target time of 2005 so that we can get down the CO2 emissions during that year to where they are this year. That is a realistic target and one which I think will become a world consensus. I am very glad that the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has endorsed that as a realistic target and believes that in 15 years' time we shall have better science on which to make further decisions.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that she spoke for the whole country recently when she said that the poll tax had been a huge mistake?

The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken—I never said any such thing. I am very sorry to disappoint him, but he should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers.

I am sad that the reports that there was some common sense breaking out in Downing street have been slightly exaggerated. Is the Prime Minister aware that the costs of administering poll tax are huge? Is she aware that there is chaos in many areas about the collection of the poll tax? Does she appreciate that poll tax capping will inflict crippling losses, especially on children's education? When all those things are true, is not it obvious that the only thing wrong with her saying that the poll tax is a huge mistake is that it was a gross understatement?

The right hon. Gentleman never conditions his supplementary questions to my previous replies; perhaps that is beyond his capacity to think on his feet. With regard to the collection of the community charge, the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers will be aware that we accelerated the taxpayer's contribution, the revenue support grant, to local authorities so that they got virtually three months' grant in place of the two months that they otherwise would have got. That gives them a considerable advantage in cash terms so that if they put it on deposit they have a good extra amount to tide them over any difficulties.

Perhaps the right hon. Lady will condition herself to the reality that all over the country, under Conservative and Labour councils, people are saying, "This poll tax is costing us much more than the rates ever did. Where is the sense, prudence and fairness in that?" Is not it clear that such a tax is doomed, as it deserves to be, along with the Government who invented it?

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the community charge, especially as he lives in Ealing, where, having had a Labour council, there is a very high community charge. But who is the right hon. Gentleman to talk? We looked at the Labour party's document, having heard Labour's director of campaigns and communications promise on 4 April that the next major policy statement by the Labour party would be on 23 and 24 May. We were told:

"In that will be contained our fully worked out alternative to the poll tax."
What did we see when we got that document? We found a list of principles followed by the statement:
"The practical means by which we achieve these aims and principles are set out in a background paper."
There is no background paper. The Labour party does not have a clue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the astonishment and dismay of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House at the decision of the unelected Chamber on the War Crimes Bill? Will she bear it in mind that Australia, Canada and the United States, three countries with legal systems not dissimilar to ours and which do not take second place to us in regard to human rights, legislated on this long ago? Will she weigh very carefully in coming to any decision on this grave matter the words in the conclusion of the Hetherington-Chalmers report that to take no action against such monstrous crimes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] I am quoting——

will taint the United Kingdom with the slur of becoming a haven for war criminals? Is not it clear that the only moral conclusion to be reached is that the Bill must be introduced in another Session?

Of course I recognise the extremely strong feelings, because of the hideous nature of the crimes. We shall be considering carefully the implications of the result of the debate in another place and how best to proceed, bearing in mind the size of the majority in this House on a free vote. It may be that the House itself will wish to discuss the matter, in which case I am sure that that will be pursued through my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

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

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her Government are presiding over record levels of homelessness, high mortgage costs, high rent increases and the complete collapse of the private rented sector? What does she intend to do about that?

The Government are also presiding over a record number of homes. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that considerable proposals have been made and money allocated to reduce homelessness. It was recently announced that £250 million would be devoted to it, with considerable increases in the money being made available in the coming two years, from £985 million to £1,700 million, to the Housing Corporation and housing associations to build more houses suitable for those and other people.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the success of inward investment in Britain. She has no doubt noted that 41 per cent. of American investment and 38 per cent. of Japanese investment in Europe comes to Britain. Does she agree that if the Labour party put the unions back in the saddle, overtaxed everyone and increased public expenditure that new investment would end and Britain would become the sick man of Europe, as it was in 1979?

I agree with my hon. Friend that a record amount of inward investment in the Community comes to this country from the United States, Japan and other countries. Part of the reason for that is the kind of free enterprise economy that we run and our excellent record on enterprise, production and manufacturing investment. All those things would go if the Labour party ever put into practice its policy document, which goes back to the failed policies of the past.

Does the Prime Minister agree with the very sensible views of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German Foreign Minister, who said that NATO will have to change and evolve to become the keystone of a new pan-European defence structure if the long-term stability and security of Europe is to be maintained?

They are not new or sudden. I shall be speaking to a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers at Turnberry on Thursday and there will also be a NATO summit in this country in June-July to do just that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it would be inappropriate for the Government to respond to the illegal action of France in banning British beef imports by a similar illegal action of our own, it is perfectly reasonable for British consumers to use their purchasing power to boycott French goods, inluding the appalling French Golden Delicious apples?

I understand my hon. Friend's strong feelings, but I must tell him that the Commission has been extremely good and quick in its action. It is quite illegal to ban exports from this country to Germany or France and the Commission is taking action. The special veterinary committee of the Community has agreed that Britain has taken all action possible and that British beef is safe.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

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

Does the Prime Minister agree that at a time of low morale in the teaching profession and teacher shortages it is a tragedy that Barnsley metropolitan borough council is having to sack teachers and close its music teaching centre, thereby depriving local children of tuition in music, simply as a result of her Government's arbitrary and artificial poll tax capping?

That is not the cause, and it is absolute nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to say that. Local authorities such as mine whose education record is unbeaten have managed to do it with a low community charge. They manage things very well with the co-operation of their teaching staff and exhibit excellent local authority management.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

Will my right hon. Friend note that I had British beef for lunch? [Interruption.]

Will she convey the congratulations of my farmers to the EEC Commission on its prompt action on the illegal ban imposed by certain EEC countries which is based on pure commercial interests? Will she confirm that all the independent scientific and medical evidence shows that it is perfectly safe to eat British beef? Does she agree that the decision by Northumberland county council to ban beef, which was withdrawn within two days, was an utter disgrace?

I thank my hon. Friend for his meaty question. I entirely agree that the Commission has acted quickly, in response to the ban, which it regards as illegal. I agree that the special committee of veterinary experts attached to the Community has approved of everything that we have done in taking every possible measure in pursuit of the recommendations of the Southwood and Tyrrell committees and that British beef is safe. I also agree that those who have banned British beef have done so more to protect their farmers than for anything else. I will gladly pass on my hon. Friend's remarks.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

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

I thank the Prime Minister for her reply. I hope that she enjoys the rest of her day and that she has a pleasant night's sleep in a warm bed. Is she aware that this is National Housing Week? What will she do for those of my constituents who do not even have a home to go to tonight?

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what has been done. I understand that just over 1,000 people sometimes sleep out rough in London. Some of them have other problems such as being mentally retarded, or have genuine problems and are genuine social cases. Others are not. During the lifetime of the Government, a great many hostel places have been built. There are now more than 21,000 hostel places in London, including some 3,000 emergency places and direct access beds. We have already just allocated another—[Interruption.]

They do not like to hear the facts, Mr. Speaker. Some £250 million will be spent over the next two years to provide nearly 15,000 extra lettings. The new housing association hostels will be allocated another £100 million, all to help with the problem of the homeless. There are far more council flats empty in London than there are people homeless on London streets.

Coach Crash (France)

3.32 pm

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the coach crash on the A6 near Auxerre in France.

Order. Will hon. Members who are not remaining to hear the private notice question please leave quietly?

Last Sunday, 3 June, at 8 am local time, a coach belonging to Montego European Travel went off the road near Auxerre in France, approximately 80 miles south of Paris, and rolled on to its side. Of the passengers and crew, 11 were killed, 18 seriously injured and 47 slightly injured. On behalf of the Government and, I am sure, the whole House, I should like to take this opportunity to express our sympathy to the families and friends of those injured or killed in this dreadful accident. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

I am sure that I also speak for the whole House in paying tribute to the emergency services in France, whose prompt response may well have prevented further deaths. The British consul-general and his assistant went immediately to the scene of the accident and spent the day at the hospitals and with relatives, assisting them and providing information to the families involved.

The French started an investigation immediately, and the Government offered their help. Two of my senior vehicle investigation experts flew to France that evening to assist the French authorities, and I expect a full report on the vehicle from them next week. An examining magistrate has been appointed by the French prefecture to investigate all the circumstances of the accident.

My vehicle inspectors have already told me that the right-hand front tyre had failed. It was not a remould, was a correct size for the vehicle and was in good condition, and there was no sign of under-inflation. However, the tread had separated from the tyre, and the reason for that is being investigated further. The vehicle was fitted with a tachograph, which has been taken into the possession of the French police and is being checked.

I am sure that the House will appreciate that I must not say anything that would prejudge the outcome of the investigation. It is my intention to ensure that all the circumstances are fully investigated and the facts made available. I expect to receive a full report about the vehicle next week, and we have agreed with the French authorities that we will exchange reports.

The Government attach the highest importance to coach safety and to driver training. Before it goes on the road, each coach is approved and certificated. It is required to undergo an annual roadworthiness inspection. During the past three years, we have increased the number of special checks on coach safety to ensure that high standards are maintained. The coach involved in the accident had been checked in accordance with all the British requirements, and had been found to be satisfactory.

Britain has been playing a leading role in Europe in developing high standards of coach safety. In particular, we have been pressing for the provision of seat belts in coaches, and, in the light of this tragic accident, we shall be renewing our pressure for the removal of obstacles to their standard fitment in all our coaches. I shall be having urgent discussions with the Bus and Coach Council, and others concerned, about any lessons that can be learnt from the accident to ensure that we maintain and secure the safest possible coach travel. I shall also seek to accelerate the fitting of speed limiters.

I would like to end as I began—by expressing my sympathy to the families and friends of those tragically involved in this terrible accident.

Let me, on behalf of all Opposition Members, associate myself with the expressions of sympathy tendered to the bereaved and to relatives of those injured in the tragedy, which has caused enormous shock and grief, especially in the west midlands.

May I press the Secretary of State about the implementation of compulsory seat belts and speed limiters? Can he give the House a date when that is likely to happen? He has rightly insisted on the unilateral implementation of seat-belt legislation for motor cars; why not do the same for coaches?

What plans has the right hon. Gentleman for stricter scrutiny of tachographs, especially on long-distance coaches? Will he call coach operators together to discuss speed and stability, and structural integrity—especially that of double-deck, high capacity vehicles such as the one involved in the accident? Has he any plans to introduce a ban on recut as well as remould tyres for coach operators, especially those operating over long distances?

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the story, featured in the Daily Mail this morning, that the company had been operating illegally for some months? Is he aware that Opposition Members believe that this appalling tragedy is a direct result of coach deregulation, which has led—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—oh, yes—which has led to a proliferation of back-street operators who have neither the time, the money nor the resources to maintain their coaches adequately?

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the French authorities, and to join him in once more expressing my sympathy to relatives.

Seat belts are within the competence of the Community, and we have been leading the way to have them fitted in all our coaches. We have the support only of the Danes, and the slightly half-hearted support of the Germans; the remainder of the Community is opposed. As recently as last Thursday we pressed the Commission to come forward with a directive. We could take unilateral action, but it would be illegal and we could not enforce it. It would be a pointless gesture of the sort on which we do not intend to waste time.

As the House knows, since 1988 all new coaches have to be fitted with speed limiters. Any coaches built between 1984 and 1988 had to have them fitted by 1 April this year. Any built between 1974 and 1983 must have them fitted by next April. I intend to ask the Bus and Coach Council to bring forward that process. All coaches will be fitted with speed limiters by next April.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about tachographs. As he will recall, his party has consistently opposed them, under pressure from the Transport and General Workers Union. It coined the phrase "spies in the cab." Speed limiters are now fitted to long-distance coaches and we monitor them. More tests have been carried out during the past year than ever before. Indeed, we have been increasing the number of inspections, which contradicts the claim of his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).

The hon. Gentleman's question about recuts and remoulds was hypothetical. He was pursuing a point, made quite erroneously, that the tyre was a retread. It was not a retread; it was in good condition. It has been inspected by the inspectorate, and it was not failed—

It was not a recut or a retread. The tyre was in good condition.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the claim about the company operating illegally was made by a rival organisation, and it is being investigated. It is beyond doubt that the coach was properly licensed and was being properly operated last Thursday.

In referring to coach deregulation, the hon. Gentleman's prejudice once again overruled his knowledge. The plain fact is that these coaches have not been regulated for more than 10 years. Indeed, I believe that it is almost 16 years. It is absolute and utter nonsense to claim that the tragedy was a result of the recent deregulation of bus services. It struck an unfortunate note on this occasion.

It is with great sadness that I inform my right hon. Friend that four of those killed on the weekend were from my constituency—Mr. and Mrs. Evans, who were celebrating their retirement, and Mr. and Mrs. Orme. I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words, which I shall take back to my constituents. I am sure that they will appreciate the fact that he is urgently investigating the accident.

The families of those four people and of the others killed do not want cheap party politics and I am sad that the opportunity to do that has been taken today. They want hope—hope that lessons will be learnt and that future lives will be saved. I hope that the Government and others responsible for reviewing the position—whether coach operators, drivers or the EC—will complete their investigations as soon as possible. The Government must introduce legislation, if need be in the cold light of day when the speculation and the emotion had died down, on compulsory seat belts and, possibly, even on speed restrictions for coaches, as is the case in some EC countries.

I ask my right hon. Friend to come to the House as soon as possible with his report of the investigation, because I am sure that the families in Wolverhampton want that reassurance.

May I express my sympathy to my hon. Friend and those of her constituents who suffered bereavement and injury in this terrible accident? We are determined that any lessons that can be learnt will be learnt. The investigation will be thorough. As my hon. Friend pointed out, this has absolutely nothing to do with deregulation. In spite of this terrible accident, we have one of the best records in Europe—half as many deaths as in France—and that is because we set and implement high safety standards, and we shall continue to do so.

On behalf of my party, I express sympathy to all those who suffered and to their families who are still suffering. Will the Secretary of State comment on the current proposal that coach operators should have a licence for life? I hope that that proposal will be rejected and that the licence will continue to have to be renewed every five years.

Will he also comment on the inspection of the vehicles? There were suspicions about the tyres in this case, but vie have now heard that they were all right. Are all tyres inspected and are coaches which travel abroad allowed to have retreads? Will he also comment on the speed limits which apply in Britain, because I understand that coach drivers here are not allowed to use the fast lane or the overtaking lane?

Finally, will he comment on the fact that there is no training certificate for couriers. In this case they were helpful, but they could have been more helpful. The standards of couriers need to be raised, and a certificate for them approved by the Government.

There is a slightly misleading and worrying headline in the Evening Standard today which suggests that the driver had had the job for only 10 days. That may well have been the case, but he has had a licence to drive such vehicles for more than two years. It is a five-year licence, so it has three more years to run. The vehicle was fully inspected in July 1989 and is due for inspection again in July this year.

We are the only country in Europe to insist on a tilt test for double deckers. They have to be capable of leaning, fully laden on top, at an angle of 28 deg without toppling over before they are allowed on the road and this bus had passed that test.

We have considered speed limits. Our coaches are allowed to travel at 70 mph and to use the outside lane on motorways. Yesterday, two of our newspapers had coaches trailed and found that a number were exceeding the speed limit, which is illegal. By next April, limiters will be fixed to all coaches built after 1973. It will not then be possible to drive them faster than 70 mph. That law will be rigidly enforced and anybody who breaks it will be punished. I note what the hon. Gentleman says about couriers. He makes an interesting and worthwhile point, which I shall take up with the Bus and Coach Council.

Was there not a tragic inevitability about the standard of driving that was described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) when she held office in the Department of Transport as "intimidatory"? Is it not a fact that some of these tower blocks on wheels have evolved from rules which were made for single-decker coaches, which now bear no relationship to the rules needed for the double-decker buses plying in our towns and cities?

Is my right hon. Friend aware how many times I have asked him to impose speed limits on these coaches?

My hon. Friend is a director of National Express, and he will have his chance to speak later.

Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware how often I have asked him and his Department to consider banning coaches from the outside lane of motorways? Is he aware that the Bus and Coach Council has consistently resisted those proposals and his attempts to introduce tachographs, which many of us have sought for many years? Will my right hon. Friend contemplate the fact that what he has just said means that the older the coach the more it can escape from these rigid regulations? Should we not now impose discipline on those people and let them argue why it should not be imposed?

My hon. Friend's commitment to trains and his hostility to coaches is extremely well known, and he has just given another illustration of it. The coach concerned had been certified as fit to be on the road and capable of being driven at the speed recorded. The driver held a properly obtained licence.

I was not talking about the speed at the time: I was saying that the bus was certified and the driver properly qualified.

I should like to give my hon. Friend some figures that I hope he will find encouraging. They relate to the number of casualties per billion passenger kilometres. Between 1975 and 1979, there were 1·2 deaths; between 1980 and 1984, 0·7; and between 1985 and 1988, 0·5 deaths per billion passenger kilometres. All injuries in the same period also showed a fall. There is no evidence to support my hon. Friend's totally baseless assertion that our roads are becoming more dangerous and that accidents are on the increase. The trend is encouragingly downwards.

I add my deepest sympathies to the relatives of those killed and injured in that dreadful accident. I make special mention of the six people from my own constituency who were killed and the 15 who were injured. May I have the Minister's assurance that the resources of his own Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Health will, where necessary, be made available to the relatives who need help and advice in the aftermath of the tragedy? Will he give an assurance also that, whereas the French inquiry is a separate matter, there will be an independent Department of Transport inquiry into speed limits, safety belts and tyre safety standards—and that the results will be published in full and be acted upon?

First thing yesterday morning, the hon. Gentleman was in touch with my Department, and I hope that we were able to help in every way that we could. We appreciate that the hon. Gentleman's constituency is probably affected worse than that of any other right hon. or hon. Member. The three Departments that the hon. Gentleman mentioned will do everything that they can to help the survivors and the families of those who died.

The French have launched a police inquiry. Under French law, an examining magistrate has been appointed who will consider all the facts. In parallel, we have sent investigators to consider the technical aspects of the accident. As bodies will almost certainly be returned to this country, inquests will also be held here. We shall seek to make available for those inquests any information that we have, and will also make it available to the House. If there is a need for further action, we shall not hesitate to take it.

The whole bus and coach industry agrees with my right hon. Friend's remarks, and extends its sympathies to the surviving victims of a tragic disaster. Will my right hon. Friend urge upon the French authorities the need to investigate the implications of the alleged ditch running alongside a high-speed road, which appears to have been the primary cause of the vehicle going over on its side? Is my right hon. Friend aware that such double-deck vehicles are extremely stable and that only one has been involved in an accident in the United Kingdom in the 10 years that they have been in operation—when one fell on its side, tragically killing one person and injuring two dozen others?

There are several hundred such vehicles in this country, and they each travel approximately 100,000 miles a year. They are designed for reasonably quick, safe and attractive travel between cities and nations. If there are lessons to be learnt from the accident—lessons not just in coach design but in road design as well—they will be well taken on board.

I note what my hon. Friend says. Although I shall bring his remarks to the attention of the French authorities, I do not think that they will be persuaded to fill in any of the ditches at the roadside as a result of the accident. I confirm what he said when he gave statistics about coaches. This is a terrible accident and no one seeks to minimise it in any way, but it does no service to anyone to give the impression that such buses have proved unsafe in the past. They have a good safety record. We shall ensure that they maintain their present high standards and we will rigorously enforce the regulations.

May I join the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) in their expression of sympathy for the bereaved and injured, 13 of whom came from Stoke-on-Trent, south Cheshire and north Staffordshire? Is the Secretary of State satisfied with standards in Britain, as he said that the bus met all of them? Does that not put a question mark over British standards of safety and maintenance and the speed regulations?

Bearing in mind the question mark over the operation of the company involved—which, like the travel agent, was not a member of the Association of British Travel Agents—will the Secretary of State this afternoon at least commit himself to a departmental public inquiry, which, I understand from his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, he has not yet done? Surely the least that he can do this afternoon is give an assurance to the bereaved and injured that there will be a Government inquiry?

The hon. Gentleman talks about the regulations, but although we are talking about a small company, all the evidence shows that it conformed to the law, that all its vehicles were tested and had passed the test, and all its drivers were qualified to drive such a bus. As he knows, a police investigation is going on in France and that inhibits us. For example, the police have seized the tachograph.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the accident happened in France and therefore the French are in charge of the investigation. We have sent our inspectorate over to carry out a parallel investigation. The two reports will be made available to the House, and it may well come to the conclusion that the accident has been fully investigated and is fully understood. If there are lessons to be learnt, we shall learn them. I shall keep an open mind about the need for further inquiries, but the matter is being thoroughly investigated at the moment.

So that we may learn more about the factors that cause tyre blow-out, will my hon. Friend ask the transport and road research laboratory to co-ordinate Europewide research on this important matter?

The TRRL is already carrying out investigations into the difficult subject of tyre blow-outs, which happen from time to time and have terrible consequences. The research that my hon. Friend wants is already being carried out.

May I add my sympathy to that which has already been extended to the bereaved and injured? Will the Secretary of State tell us to what extent he will have a full safety overhaul? It is not enough for him to say that existing safety levels have been maintained. He needs to overhaul road safety completely. Will he also give an assurance that, when the public inquiry takes place, he will consider the schedules that road operators have to keep to catch ferries from France back to this country? Will he tell the House the last occasion on which the coach was checked?

I again express my sympathy to the hon. Lady, and to her constituents for their loss in this dreadful accident. Of course we shall see what we can learn from the incident. However, I must point out that we have high safety standards and that we enforce them rigorously. If more should be done, it will be done and that is what the investigation is about. We shall have to see whether anything emerges from that investigation that requires further action.

We shall also look again—and I have already discussed this with my colleagues—at the question of speed limits for coaches and whether the 70 mph limit is satisfactory. Until this terrible accident, there had been a continuing improvement, partly because of higher standards and partly because they were rigorously enforced. There is no question of seeking to do anything other than learning as many lessons as we can and taking the action necessary as a result of those lessons.

Order. This is a private notice question. I have allowed it to run rather longer than usual because of its importance. I shall take two more questions each from both sides and then, I hope, I shall have called all hon. Members whose constituents have been affected by this tragic accident.

The whole question of fitting seat belts on coaches has been revived by this tragic accident. Recognising the limitations placed on my right hon. Friend by the EC, does he agree that there is nothing to prevent the Bus and Coach Council recommending to its members that they should voluntarily fit seat belts in coaches? In the process, he might also suggest to the council that, if we are to see competition on coach services, many of us would prefer to see it based on competition between vehicles that have seat belts and those that have not, rather than on speed, which sometimes appears to be the only criterion.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful suggestion and I will take up the matter with the Bus and Coach Council. Manufacturers are willing to fit seat belts if operators ask for them. Seat belts are offered to the operators, and I will suggest to the Bus and Coach Council that it encourages its members to fit them. I repeat that we cannot enforce that, because it is a Community matter and we have not been able to persuade our Community partners that seat belts are necessary. However, there is nothing to prevent members of the Bus and Coach Council from volunteering, and seat belts are available.

Is the Secretary of State aware, without commenting on this firm or anticipating any inquiry—which would be wrong—that it is common knowledge that many cowboy firms now operate? It is his responsibility to investigate that and to do what he can to outlaw them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that a new motorway madness is emerging in Britain, as I have witnessed recently? Drivers are now driving on the inside lane and then cutting into the outside lane at 100 mph, which never happened before, and there is no police regulation. I have driven about 600 miles to conferences this weekend and I did not see one police car. Can something be done about that, please?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the enforcement of the law is a matter for the police and I will bring the matter to the attention of the Association of Chief Police Officers. On cowboy firms, one reason why we have increased the number of spot checks is to try to catch out those who are not playing by the rules and who are not obeying the law. The number of spot checks has been increased substantially precisely for that purpose. By next April, virtually all our coaches will have limiters which will be set by law at 70 mph and which should therefore control the speed of our coaches.

The right hon. Gentleman's point about motorway driving is fair. As he knows, although we have one of the best records in Europe, 105 people are killed every week on our roads and part of the reason for that is bad driving. Many lives could be saved by the simple use of common sense by drivers and by pedestrians. It has been revealed that 44 per cent. of all pedestrians involved in accidents did not look either way when they stepped on to the road. Simple precautions could save many lives.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time of sadness and bereavement, the House has not distinguished itself, because most questions this afternoon have almost implied a reason for the terrible crash and disaster? Should we not do what Mr. Asquith said years ago—wait and see? The reason might be a production fault in the tyre or a bit of metal lying on the motorway. Hon. Members are panicking this afternoon and suggesting all sorts of reasons for the accident. Why do we not be sensible for a change and wait and see?

I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend's point of view. It is absolutely right for Members of Parliament to express their concern for their constituents on occasions such as this, and most hon. Members involved have been able to do so. We should not jump to conclusions about this matter. We certainly should not find people guilty before they have had a trial.

The family and friends of my constituents who are in intensive care with their children want to be quite certain that everything is being done to make sure not only that they are assisted back to this country but that such an accident will never happen again. Will the Secretary of State ensure that an immediate programme of research into the efficiency of seat belts—the lap type and shoulder type—is undertaken? Will he ensure also that the examining magistrate's report will be translated and made available to the House of Commons as soon as it is available, as the powers that are available to French magistrates are far wider than those in this country, and the report may contain information that is vital to road safety?

I express my sympathy to the hon. Lady. We in the Department have been convinced that seat belts would reduce the number of deaths and injuries, and that is why we have been pressing for them. We shall continue to make every effort to persuade our Community colleagues.

On the examining magistrate, I had better be a little careful. The examining magistrate may come to the conclusion that she wishes to institute proceedings. I do not say that to prejudge the issue. Therefore, I do not know at what stage she would be prepared to allow me to have a copy of her findings. As I have said, I want the House to have the full facts, and, as soon as I am in a position to make them available, I shall.

I hope that I have called all the hon. Members whose constituents have been directly involved in this tragic accident. If I have not, will they indicate and I shall call them? In that case, we must now move on to the second private notice question.

Shellfish (North-East Coast)

4.3 pm

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether he will make a statement about the safety of shellfish caught off the north-east coast in the light of the warnings issued by his Department.

On 26 May, my Department issued a public warning that routine monitoring of the north-east coast of England by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food scientists had found high levels of a toxin in shellfish. The toxin is concentrated by shellfish from a particular kind of naturally occurring algae which occurs at this time of the year.

My Department advised that consumption of all locally caught shellfish, including crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns could cause illness, and should not be eaten while toxin levels remained high. The warning applied to shellfish taken from the coast between the Humber and Montrose. Local warning notices were issued and posted.

The occurrence of toxins at the levels found recently in shellfish from the north-east have in the past caused serious illness. Further extensive testing of molluscan shellfish—for example, mussels—has shown that the current levels of toxin are such that the public must, for the time being, refrain from consuming them. However, with the exception of crabs, the safety of all crustaceans such as lobsters, prawns and shrimps caught off the north-east coast has now been firmly established. The testing of crabs has revealed small amounts of toxin in the edible meat, and more tests are being made to obtain sufficient reassurance to enable the warning on crabs to be lifted.

The Department of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Office have worked closely in addressing this problem and clear advice has been given to and acted upon by the public. I should also like to acknowledge the enormous effort put in to the control action and monitoring by the local authorities concerned.

Although it is obviously necessary to issue a warning about mussels and molluscs, as has happened in previous years, why, when there is no evidence of any danger from eating lobsters or prawns, did the Ministry's press release say that all locally caught shellfish, including crustaceans, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns, could cause illness and must not be eaten? What tests had been carried out on lobsters, crabs or prawns when the statement was made? What tests were carried out over the next three days of the bank holiday weekend after the statement had been made? Does the Secretary of State realise what that greatly widened warning has done to the fragile livelihoods of the east-coast fishermen and fish processors?

What is the difference between compensating egg producers when ministerial statements are misleading and cause serious damage, and compensating the fishermen? Why is not the Minister responsible for fisheries, who is sitting beside the right hon. and learned Gentleman, responding favourably to the fishermen's demands for reasonable compensation for the extent to which the warning went beyond what has been shown on the evidence?

Paralytic shellfish poisoning is a dangerous disease. The livelihoods of a great many fishermen would probably have been destroyed if the Department concerned had not taken prompt action and if tragic results had occurred. We had a serious outbreak in 1968, when 78 people were affected. The toxic levels that were found on this occasion were as high as on that occasion. As the hon. Gentleman fairly said, toxic levels were lower in the intervening years, when routine local notices have sufficed.

In the circumstances, it was wise to be prudent and it was necessary to carry out the examinations, which were carried out, on crabs, lobsters, shrimps and prawns which feed as scavengers, to ensure that the toxin levels were safe. Toxin levels were found in lobsters, but in the digestive tract, which is not consumed. Toxin levels are still being found in crabs, the digestive tracts of which are consumed. We are continuing to monitor crabs and we shall give the "all clear" for crabs as soon as possible.

This is a naturally occurring phenomenon and I realise that it causes loss to the fishermen whenever it occurs. Indeed, we have records of it dating back to 1814. The phenomenon is well known in north America and occurs in continental Europe also. The statements given by Ministers—by my Department and others—were not misleading at any stage but were a prudent protection of public health.

I do not believe that there is any case for compensation for the fishermen who collect—they do not rear—these naturally occurring crustaceans and shellfish. Countless farmers are not compensated for naturally occurring disasters. I am not an expert on those matters and this issue is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As a non-farming Minister, with farming constituents, I do not find that an instant case can be made for compensating the fishermen, although I appreciate that they have suffered an unfortunate blow to their livelihoods from a naturally occurring phenomenon, which they all know perfectly well occurs in the stretch of the coast that they fish.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the way in which his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have worked together when handling this matter demonstrates the effectiveness of the current arrangements for alerting consumers when there is a possibility of a genuine problem affecting food? Can my right hon. and learned Friend think of any instance in which any other European Community country has been so quick to inform the consumer when there has been a similar problem?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Departments involved sometimes feel that they cannot win. In all these instances, we act promptly on the basis of the scientific and medical evidence. That is what we have done, on this and other occasions. However, I accept that one cannot win whatever one does. If one issues a warning, one is attacked by those whose livelihoods depend on food; if one does not issue a warning, one is attacked by the lobbyists who claim that there is a conspiracy between oneself and the producer—

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

It is a hard life.

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a hard life. Nevertheless, our actions on this occasion have received almost universal support. We have taken the only steps possible in the interests of public health. Although I do not have any official confirmation of this, I am led to understand that the French have banned the collection of shellfish in the mouth of the Rhone. I am certain that on all matters of food safety we have the best system in western Europe. I hope that all countries act as promptly as we do on such occasions and on all occasions.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that, although the development of algae is a natural phenomenon, it is aggravated by the pollution problems in the North sea? That is the nub of the problem. I have lived all my life on the north-east coast of England. When I was a young man, it was reasonable to collect mussels and whelks along the coast, although on and off there was a ban. However, bans were not on the scale of the present ban. When will real action be taken to overcome the problem by pressurising the newly privatised water authorities to take serious action on the problem?

I talked about acting on scientific and medical evidence. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, there is not a scrap of evidence to support his assertion that the problem has anything to do with the pollution of the North sea. The hon. Gentleman is not a very old man. He is a little older than me, but he was not alive in 1814, when the first incident was recorded of these algae blooming on that part of the north-east coast. It has been a regular occurrence for more than 100 years off that coast. People have died every now and again over the years from eating shellfish. That is well known by most people. I am glad that, when the hon. Gentleman collected shellfish in his youth, he did not disregard health warnings about the dangers of collecting them in the months of May and June, when in some years the algae bloom in such a way that toxins reach a dangerous level.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while there are risks from fishing in the North sea and natural events cause difficulties for fishermen, there is a wider problem in the state of the North sea fishing industry in general? Will he pass a message to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on that point, so that we can have a review of the financial arrangements for our fishermen?

The Minister responsible for fisheries is sitting on the Front Bench at this moment. He and I have discussed the matter already. I am answering the question because it relates to public health, but my hon. Friend is much involved in the problems of fishing in the north-east. He and I regret that the fishermen of the north-east have suffered this misfortune and are having a particularly bad year because of the algae, which for the time being are cutting back part of their livelihood. I take on board the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and I know that my hon. Friend t he Minister will note them carefully, too.

Can the Secretary of State explain why, having issued a serious public health warning on a Saturday about algae off the north-east coast, the Minister responsible for environmental and public health issues and his Department was unavailable for comment to provide clarification until the middle of the following week? That led to maximum confusion and uncertainty about the extent and nature of the threat. Does the Secretary of State accept that such a performance by a Government Department is disgraceful and unacceptable? What steps does he intend to take to ensure that that performance is not repeated in the future?

With the greatest respect, I strongly refute all those allegations. It is becoming the fashion, every time that a warning has to be issued about a food danger, for people to make absurd allegations about the conduct of the Departments. Scientists and experts were working and were available over the weekend. Ministers from all the Departments involved worked closely together. The statements that we issued were perfectly clear and accurate and were a prompt and proper response to protect public safety. It is becoming absurd. Hon. Members search for scandal when prompt action is taken to protect people against a purely natural incident. A particular alga has flowered at this time of the year off a part of our coast, and as a result of our action no one has suffered any injury to health.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take it from me, as one who is the same age as the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson), was brought up on the north-east coast, lives there now and is a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, that the problem of natural algae has been known in the north-east for a long time? Is it not odd that, in the previous private notice question, everyone was being clever after the event, but my right hon. and learned Friend is now criticised for being clever before the event? The latter is the way that I prefer it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He and I know that, in 1968, toxin levels were high and there was a serious outbreak of poisoning that led to the illness of 78 people. It is not just a stomach upset, for if people eat the shellfish, they are also prone to a serious paralytic disease.

I agree with my hon. Friend that, had the Departments concerned not worked closely together to issue a prompt warning, we would quite rightly be answering criticisms today about our neglect of our duty and of public health. It is somewhat idiotic for people to scratch about today trying to criticise a prompt response to a worrying problem.

Order. We have a busy day ahead of us. I shall call two more hon. Members from each side; then we must move on to subsequent business.

Is the Minister aware that fishermen in my area believe that the dumping of sewage off the isle of May contributes to the poison that occurs in the estuary of the firth of Forth, which contaminates shellfish and other fish? Obviously that is unacceptable. It is all very well to condemn Lothian region or the city of Edinburgh, but the answer is to provide resources so that, instead of a ship depositing the poison into the sea, a fully fledged sewage works is established to handle the sewage from the city of Edinburgh. Will the Minister and his Scottish colleagues ensure that money is made available for the people of my area?

Obviously I have respect for the fishermen in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Attempts have been made to study previous years to see if there is any correlation between the years when the algae bloomed to produce high levels of toxin and those when nutrients, including nutrients from sewage, have existed at a high level in the North sea. [Interruption.] To those algae, sewage is nutrient. There is no correlation between the two. The algae appear to bloom naturally when certain conditions of temperature, tide and so on occur, as have occurred this year. There is no scientific evidence to link that with any sort of pollution.

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks about sewage to the attention of the Minister responsible. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this country has an excellent record of improving systems for the disposal of sewage and of improving our rate of dumping into the sea.

Of course my right hon. and learned Friend is right to give advance warning of problems, but does he accept that such warnings often affect the west coast fisheries, from which supplies are perfectly normal and okay? The public have listened to snippets of information on the radio and read snippets in the newspapers. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would have been better for one of the three Ministries to make the announcement rather than having one make it and the other two follow it up? If we spoke with one voice, perhaps we would be clearer.

Only one Department made the announcement, but I am grateful if the other two Departments agreed with what we said, as they were involved in the decision. We issued a clear warning, which was clear about the geography as well. It is true that the particular alga has never bloomed south or west of the Humber in our history. Our statement tried to make it clear that the problem existed only between Montrose and the Humber. MAFF has continued to monitor other waters in case, for the first time, the alga blooms in other waters, but there is no evidence that it is occurring outside the affected area.

In spite of his somewhat blustering response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) the right hon. and learned Gentleman must accept that, between the Saturday and the Wednesday, there was a complete dearth of specific information. Attempts to get more detailed information in the interests of fishermen and other marine users was unsuccessful. That is not an allegation but a fact, and the Secretary of State should accept it.

Does he also accept that the failure to give specific information probably contributed to the blanket ban on shellfish from the north-east of Scotland to the considerable detriment of marginal fishing ports in that area and small-time fishermen who catch shellfish? The heavy-handed approach to this matter has depressed the entire shellfish market in Scotland. It is essential for public opinion to understand that most shellfish coming from the east coast are entirely safe and that all the shellfish caught off the west coast, including mussels, are entirely safe.

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the availability of Ministers, officials or information during the time he is describing. Indeed, I am assured that the Minister for Health and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were talking to each other on the telephone on Saturday morning and were available, as were all the experts, and that there was no lack of information in our clear statements.

I am glad to give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance he seeks about shellfish from other parts of our shores. This problem does not exist except on the stretch of coast between Montrose and the Humber. Indeed, it never has occurred west or south of the Humber.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the concerns of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations that the French are apparently, and perhaps typically, trying to get some commercial advantage out of this situation by imposing additional requirements on imports of crab from other parts of the United Kingdom through additional documentation requirements? Are the Government, particularly through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, taking steps to deal with that situation?

I believe that the French have behaved quite disgracefully on the question of beef, but at the moment I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt on shellfish—although I accept, as my hon. Friend says, that apparently there have been difficulties over the export of shellfish to France.

The Minister responsible for fisheries tells me that he has been in touch with the French authorities to try to sort it out. He is able to offer a system of certification to the French giving the source of crabs and other shellfish being supplied to the French market. We are confident that the matter can be sorted out with the active co-operation of the French authorities who, as I said earlier, I believe have had to impose a similar ban on some of their shellfisheries in the estuary of the Rhone.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the disruption that has occurred in the markets for these market-sensitive products? Will he publish the evidence about which he has been talking and which scientists at Weymouth have been producing? How soon does he expect to lift the warning on crab? When he does that, will he give as much prominence to the fact that it has been lifted as to the adverse publicity it received when the warning went on?

I will of course—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, whose Ministry carries out the tests, will agree with me—publish the evidence on which it is based. But I issue the warning, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will share with me, that, when we publish the evidence, it should not be immediately be seized on by the pseudo-experts trying to claim that the danger extends beyond the point of which we have already warned. That is always a danger whenever my Department or any other tries to issue scientific information about problems of this kind. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall issue the evidence and I believe that it will reassure him about the action that we took.

We will publish the evidence as soon as possible; I am not sure why we cannot issue it more or less straight away. MAFF is continuing to monitor crabs. Low levels of toxin are occurring. As soon as it is clear that there is no risk of high levels of toxin occurring in crabs, the warning will immediately be lifted.

We have always said that action must be taken to protect consumers in cases of this kind and that a precautionary principle in matters of food safety must apply in cases of doubt. Having said that, the Minister must be fair and accept that there has been unreasonable delay in dealing with the testing of crabs and in giving out information.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it was impossible to get information out of MAFF until the Wednesday after the bank holiday? Neither I nor the NFFO could obtain information. Does he further accept that crab samples from South Tyneside council were not taken by the Department for processing because it was a bank holiday? One would have thought that, when dealing with a public health matter of this type, some priority would have been given to dealing with such issues.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that independent tests on crabs obtained by fishermen have been ignored? Given all the delays and muddles, will he accept that fishermen deserve an ex gratia payment as compensation for the losses that they have sustained through no fault of their own?

I do not usually face the hon. Gentleman, but the Opposition must decide whether they are shocked by the Government's lack of concern for food safety or by the fact that we take action when there is evidence of danger concerning food. Frankly, Opposition Members are trying to feed a mood of vague public alarm, when we have a perfectly straightforward case of a phenomenon that is familiar in the north-east and over which the Government have acted promptly and thoroughly.

It is not true to say that there was any difficulty in obtaining information. Perhaps in future the hon. Gentleman should consult my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for fisheries about how to communicate on such matters to obtain the information that he requires. We have an effective system for protecting public safety, and it has worked on this occasion. I think that the public are more sensible than either their politicians or the press on such subjects. Most people respect actions of the kind that we have taken, which are based on medical and scientific fact and not on spurious alarms or spurious complaints.

New Member

The following Member made the Affirmation required by law:

Michael Carr Esq., for Bootle.

Football Licensing Authority

4.31 pm

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

"the failure of the Government to make appointments to the Football Licensing Authority on 1 June 1990."
The matter is specific, since today is the first opportunity for hon. Members to raise the matter of the failure of the Government to make the necessary appointments of chairman and eight members of this body by the date set by the Government themselves in a commencement order on 21 March. In a written answer to me on 8 May 1990, the Minister of State, Home Office said that the FLA would be set up on 1 June. I wrote to the Minister on 11 May pressing upon him the urgent need for these appointments to be made. I regret to say that I have not even received a reply to that letter. Now the Home Office has informed me that the appointments have not been made.

The urgency of the need for the FLA to commence operations is clear. Football clubs and local authorities cannot begin work on converting grounds to all-seated accommodation until the FLA, which will have the responsibility for granting licences to clubs to admit spectators, is in operation. They feel that the deadline set by Lord Justice Taylor and the Government for this urgent safety work is tight if not impossible.

The Government cannot argue that they are not aware of the seriousness of the situation. In the aftermath of the disaster at Hillsborough, the Prime Minister told the House:
"I suggest that the House should not delay a legislative measure to enable us to take advantage of Lord Justice Taylor's recommendations for another 12 months, and that it would be negligent to do so."—[Official Report, 20 April 1989; Vol. 151, c. 456.]
For once, the Prime Minister was right, but 13 months later the Home Office itself is preventing the implementation of the legislation by its failure to make appointments to the FLA, and that is nothing short of disgraceful. In January, the Home Secretary told the House:
"Those clubs that have not faced up to their responsibility now have a final opportunity to do so; and if they do not now act, the public will not forgive them."—[Official Report, 29 January 1990; Vol. 166, c. 22.]
The football authorities have been proving that they are anxious to meet these tough deadlines. They have instituted four working groups to implement the Taylor proposals but are being prevented from putting them into action by the failure of the Government to face their responsibility.

If the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister need any further convincing of the seriousness of the situation, they have only to heed the words of the Minister for Sport:
"If we do not have the legislative vehicle in place, we would not be in a position to give clubs as much time as possible to meet the timetable outlined in the report."—[Official Report, 30 January 1990; Vol. 166, c. 257.]
For those reasons, the House should adjourn to discuss this specific and important matter.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the failure of the Government to make appointments to the Football Licensing Authority on 1 June 1990."
I listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman said. As he knows, the decision I have to take is whether to give his submission precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. In this case, the matter that he has raised does not meet the criteria of the standing order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Points Of Order

4.35 pm

On a point of order, for you, Mr. Speaker. So far as I am aware, no Frenchman has ever died as a result of the privilege of eating delicious British beef. However, many of our fellow countrymen have died or been maimed as a result of driving round in their second-rate, badly assembled and unsafe vehicles. Could you, as the champion of this House, tell us what rights the House has to enforce the European ruling that the French should not obstruct the movement of British beef? Alternatively, what powers does the House have to prevent the flood of European second-rate shambolic imports into this country? If we have no powers, could you—

Order. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am afraid that I have no such powers. I wish that I had.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When hon. Members make speeches on a subject in which they might have an interest, it is expected that they declare that interest. In the past several months, incidents have arisen of Ministers making speeches about privatisation and then going on to get jobs in various concerns. I refer to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who took part in the privatisation of British Telecom and—

Let me finish. Then there was the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who took a job with the National Freight Consortium. Then there was the last one—

Order. I am not remotely responsible for any jobs that right hon. Members might take.

The hon. Gentleman is taking a long time to do it. He must raise a point of order on a matter for which I have responsibility. I have no responsibility for granting these jobs.