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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 174: debated on Monday 18 June 1990

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Local Management Of Schools


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proportion of education spending has been held back from local management of schools by each local education authority in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your felicitious greeting and I thank the House for its generous approbation.

The average figure is around 33 per cent. I will circulate the figures for each local education authority in the, Official Report, and I will place a copy in the Library of the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, the most Welsh of all Welsh hon. Members, on a richly deserved honour that is warmly welcomed throughout Wales.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that 33 per cent. is too high. What steps will he take to urge all councils to follow the example of my local council in trying to ensure that as much money as possible makes its way to schools? What assurance can parents obtain that their own local schools will have a fair crack of the whip, bearing in mind that major repairs and capital works are still excluded from LMS schemes?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Of course, about 10 per cent. is allowed to be held centrally under LMS schemes as submitted to us, but that leaves a considerable amount at the discretion of local authorities. On average, authorities have held back about 22·5 per cent., but that masks a wide variation from 17 to 27·5 per cent. Certainly, as LMS schemes proceed, I should expect to see a rapid reduction in the proportion of resources retained centrally. I am sure that governors, headmasters and so on will be looking forward to seeing LMS statements produced by local authorities which show just where the money is going.

Does the Minister accept that in rural Wales, particularly in Powys, formula funding is beginning to cause extreme hardship to village schools and that some may close as a result? Will he review the situation so that more resources are made available for the funding of village schools under LMS schemes?

The totality of resources available for education has not been reduced at all under LMS schemes. Through LMS schemes, we have tried to ensure that as much of the money as possible is spent directly at the chalk face. With regard to small schools, about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, a factor called the small schools protection factor could have been built in, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's local authority would take such a factor into its scheme.

Following is the information:

Percentage of general schools budget retained by LEA

Mid Glamorgan32·71
South Glamorgan24·81
West Glamorgan31·77

The details of this information have been extracted from each authority's LMS scheme submission and are not strictly comparable because the information has been supplied using different price bases. Precise figures will be included in the LEAs' first LMS budget statements, which are currently awaited.

Brymbo Steel


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain steel making at Brymbo steel.


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to secure the maintenance of steel making at Brymbo steel.

At my request, the Welsh Development Agency has been exploring with United Engineering Steels all the possible options for the future of Brymbo steelworks.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for getting Welsh Development International to market Brymbo steel world wide. He must know that potential bidders may be put off because they may think that United Engineering Steels will want to close the plant rather than allow it to compete. Will he take this opportunity to say that no potential bidder, person or business should fail to show an interest or be prepared to make a bid, no matter what steel business they are in? There must be a possibility, whatever happens, that United Engineering Steels will be prepared to sell Brymbo as a going concern.

I should make it clear that I have asked the Welsh Development Agency to explore all possible options—and I stress the phrase "all possible options". I know of no circumstances in which United Engineering Steels has said that it would not be prepared to consider a positive and constructive solution for the future of the Brymbo steelworks.

The Secretary of State must be aware that only last week Brymbo steelworks achieved a record tonnage from its melting shop and that the work force are extremely hardworking and concerned about profitability and competition, as they have been for many years. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take that into account when considering negotiations with UES and that he will also bear in mind that the steelworks is not being closed because it is not competitive or profitable. This is a completely different situation. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that into account?

I readily endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the work force and merely add that the record that was broken last week had been set just the week before. This morning I had the opportunity of inviting in representatives of the work force, who confirmed what the hon. Gentleman has said. I know the Brymbo community and I know that it is a strong and important community in north Wales. I am certainly prepared to do everything possible to help it.

First, may I offer my right hon. Friend the warmest welcome to his new responsibilities? Is he aware that in a very short period he has already established a reputation as one who will fight hard for the interests of Wales—in conflict, if need be, with market forces which might otherwise allow so fine a work force to be disposed of?

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go too far down the route that he has opened up for me, save to say that although the ultimate decision about the future of the works must rest with the company, I am determined that the Welsh Development Agency should explore all possible options. Only this morning I received a progress report from its chairman, Dr. Gwyn Jones, who has taken such a personal interest in the project.

I join fellow hon. Members representing the county of Clwyd giving the strongest in support to the Brymbo work force, whose reputation stretches way beyond the constituency of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's assurance that all options will be explored and I know that he will take on board the cross-party belief in Brymbo throughout the county. Does my right hon. Friend accept that we are all behind him in every effort that he can make to keep the steelworks open?

If I needed any pressure, I confirm that it has come from all parties. The greatest pressure, however, must be attributed to the community which, as has already been said in these short responses, has established one production record after another and has a reputation for quality. That is why it is receiving such support from all hon. Members.

First, I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the Cabinet. It is a great achievement and he now heads a fascinating Department of State. I wish him well in all that he seeks to do for the people of Wales. Nevertheless, does he agree with the Bishop of St. Asaph that the company at Brymbo should collaborate in every way in finding a new buyer for a going concern? Does he further agree that it is wrong for an anonymous board of directors far away from loyal, productive Brymbo to have taken a decision which has plunged Brymbo and all its community into uncertainty and dismay?

Finally, is not it a grave comment on our industrial prospects that the superb and excellent steelworks at Brymbo is being hawked around the embassies of the world for a buyer when it is still highly productive and highly profitable? Given the right hon. Gentleman's detachment from the Cabinet's non-interventionist, market-forces stance, and his assurance that he will help, we now call on him for a supreme effort to help the Brymbo steelworks.

First, I thank the hon. Member for Ayln and Deeside (Mr. Jones), as I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) and for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), for their warm welcome to me at the Dispatch Box. I regard becoming Secretary of State for Wales as the greatest honour that can be achieved in the House, bar one—[Interruption.] I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding me that that one is your own.

I met the Bishop of St. Asaph in north Wales last week, when he made the point just made by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. I accepted the validity of it then, as I do now. We shall not make much progress by castigating the company. I met representatives of the company two days after the initial announcement, when they readily responded to my request to make their books and financial information available to the Welsh Development Agency. I know of no circumstances in which the company has said that it would be at all unreasonable about the eventual solution.

Employment Training


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain employment training in Wales.

Employment training in the future will be delivered by the employer-led training and enterprise councils. I am confident that they will provide a first-class service tailored to local needs.

On behalf of my Opposition colleagues, I offer congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his honour. He must know that, above the party battle, he enjoys much affection from all hon. Members.

In view of the proposed closures of the Blaenant colliery and the Brymbo steelworks, will there be special training programmes to meet the requirements of those who cannot be accommodated within their existing industries? Are there likely to be special training facilities available in Neath and Brymbo to deal with the problems that will arise in relation to young people for whom the industrial disasters in Wales will create difficult employment problems?

I am well aware that the closure of Blaenant colliery led to 580 redundancies. I am glad to say that, as we have designated that district as an area of large-scale redundancy, this means that there will be immediate entry to the employment training programme for those involved. The programmes's capacity to cope with the numbers involved will depend on the number of applicants from among the coalminers, but we are monitoring the position carefully through the Training Agency. It is a little premature to talk of such designation in relation to Brymbo.

Is the Minister of State aware that the new programme has reduced the number of places in Mid Glamorgan by 538? Is he also aware that when the community programme was thrown out there were 300 redundancies on Community Action Training Ogwr alone of which I am chairman in Mid Glamorgan? Is he also aware that the underfunding will mean that a number of training agencies will close their books, thus pushing trainers and trainees back on to the dole queue? Is it not time for some stability in the training programme so that trainers can plan their programmes?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's connection with the community training organisation at Ogwr. I am happy that at least all the employment training providers in Mid Glamorgan have re-contracted. I know that CATO did not get all the 250 places that it asked for. It received 217 places, however, which partly reflects the fall in the occupancy rate from 292 to 220 by 9 May this year.

Bearing in mind 1992 and the opening of the channel tunnel, and the ferocious competition to which Wales and Britain will be subjected in the years immediately ahead, does the Minister agree that we need more investment in training? I emphasise the localities of Blaenant, Swansea, Kidwelly, Hirwaun and Brymbo and the problems associated with the loss of 2,000 jobs. We do not want any complacency. Why has the Minister of State accepted a £2·5 million, 7·5 per cent. cut in employment training?

The hon. Gentleman must not seek to outdo me in stressing the importance of training. I fully agree with what he has said—we have always placed it in the forefront and given it the very highest priority. This year there is a total budget of £144,324,000 for spending through the Training Agency in Wales. That is a little less than last year, but the agency underspent last year. The employment situation has improved and employment prospects are good, despite the small increase in unemployment last month.

Training is all-important, and we have been highly successful in setting up training and enterprise councils throughout Wales. All are in the development stage and we trust that they will all be up and running before the end of the year.

Order. We are making rather slow progress. I ask for brief questions, and then perhaps we shall have briefer answers.



To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has had concerning the beef industry within Wales.

I have received a number of representations on a variety of issues concerning the beef industry, including BSE.

In his new capacity as agriculture Minister for Wales, has the right hon. Gentleman given consideration to the financial impact of BSE and the new European settlement on Welsh farmers? Does he agree that it is particularly unfortunate that they should be hit, since, by and large, they were not responsible for the outbreak of the disease? They certainly were not consulted on the negotiations in Brussels, and they have completely rejected the negotiated settlement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions—[Interruption.]

In the event of a sustained and substantial fall in prices of cull cows, will the Secretary of State consider introducing some compensatory mechanism? In as much as there is a direct link between the specialist suckler herds and the dairy herds which are infected by BSE, how will he ensure that exports of the former are not affected by the ban on dairy cattle exports?

I welcome the opportunity to make it absolutely clear, not just to the people of Wales but to the people of the United Kingdom, that there is no risk to public health from eating British beef. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would also make that absolutely clear.

Intervention procedures are flexible and will meet the situation as and when it arises, as they have already done under the intervention arrangements.

Investment (West Wales)


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the opportunities for inward investment to west Wales.

I understand that Dyfed and West Glamorgan have already secured 29 projects involving £106 million worth of inward investment. I have no reason to believe that west Wales will not continue to build on the very satisfactory level that has been achieved.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post. We were delighted to see him in Pembrokeshire last month when he opened the Pembrokeshire college. He will be aware from discussions on that occasion how important it is to bring inward investment to west Wales, where unemployment rates are higher than in the rest of Wales. Does he agree that the Welsh Office could do more by encouraging trade with Portugal, Spain and Ireland, which would certainly help that part of the country?

I welcome the opportunity given to me by my hon. Friend of securing discussions with his local authority on the need to promote that part of Wales more actively. I should like to hear more specific proposals about the counties that he mentioned. Dyfed and West Glamorgan have certainly done extremely well in substantially increasing the amount of inward investment compared with last year.

Does the Secretary of State agree that while inward investment is important, protecting existing investment is probably more important? Will he assure the House that the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency will commit their resources fully to trying to preserve, and to find a buyer for, the optical factory in Kidwelly which employed 200 people and which has been closed? That factory produced 40 per cent. of the United Kingdom's lenses. Will the right hon. Gentleman and his Department do everything that they can to find a buyer for the factory?

The right hon. Gentleman has already been in touch with me and my office about the specific case that he mentions and I will readily respond to the various suggestions that he has made. I have asked for a full report on the latest position. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I should make it clear that just as the creation of new jobs is important, so is the safeguarding of existing jobs.

Gwent Wetlands


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what action he will be taking to prevent flooding on the Gwent wetlands.

This is the responsibility of the National Rivers Authority and I understand that the matter is being given due consideration.

Does the Minister realise that on the same day as the terrible floods at Towyn there was serious flooding in my constituency at Peterstone and St. Bride's where the sea overtopped the sea wall, and at Caerleon and Newport? In view of the certainty of global warming raising sea levels, and because the area has many fine homes and new high technology enterprises, will he guarantee that in the future the area will be fully protected by new flood defences?

I am well aware of the public concern and I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the National Rivers Authority is carrying out emergency repairs in the area. The Department has already indicated that grant aid will be available. The Department also recently met the authority to discuss further proposed improvement to the existing defences of the Gwent wetlands. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows, in the light of the development that has taken place in that area the National Rivers Authority has recommended that the relevant local planning authorities should jointly promote a study of the adequacy of existing defences.

South Glamorgan Health Authority


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the South Glamorgan health authority to discuss health provision in the area.

I look forward to meeting the chairman of South Glamorgan health authority on 10 July.

I add my congratulations to the Minister of State on the signal honour that he has received from the Prime Minister, which is normally reserved for Ministers retiring to the Back Benches. Perhaps there is a moral there somewhere of the "didn't she know" or "how could she tell" variety as Dorothy Parker said of President Coolidge.

When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of South Glamorgan health authority, will he say what advice he is giving to health authorities in preparation for April 1991 in relation to hospitals where a large proportion of current patient flow comes from outside their own county health authority area so that authorities know how on earth they are to budget for the 50 per cent. of patients from outside the county? The current instructions and guidelines on closure proposals are exactly the same as they were before, but the conditions have completely changed.

The hon. Gentleman's health authority is adequately resourced for the present situation. The amount on revenue is up by 7·2 per cent. and the amount on capital is up by 122 per cent. In future, these will form part of the discussions in the usual way.

I regret that the hon. Gentleman introduced a sour note in his welcome to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a good working relationship with the Secretary of State, he should review his last letter—about which I read in the Western Mail before I received it.

There was an excellent initiative launched in South Glamorgan this morning about the use of donor cards to promote more organ and blood donors. May I urge my right hon. Friend and all Welsh Members to meet representatives of the Kidney Research Unit for Wales Foundation and the blood transfusion service outside the House later to promote their excellent endeavours further?

I have a letter from my hon. Friend, who I understand is the vice-president of the Kidney Research Unit for Wales Foundation. I am happy that the Welsh Office has been able to support the foundation. I shall be joining hon. Members from both sides of the House on College green after Question Time to promote this worthy cause.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new office and I welcome also his latter remark. Will he ask his officials to brief him properly on the finances of South Glamorgan health authority? He will find that there is a shortfall of either £4 million or £7·2 million, depending on which view one takes, in the financial resources of the authority.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to that and the tremendous planning problems that the authority faces, the staggered start to Project 2000 is proving devastating to the morale, training and recruitment of nurses in South Glamorgan? As people have worked so hard to meet the deadline of 1991, which was promised by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, is not it essential that it be restored? Would not he get his incumbency of the Welsh Office off to a good start by restoring the start date for South Glamorgan, Mid Glamorgan and Gwent?

I have the correct figures. As I understand it, South Glamorgan's revenue provision is £188·2 million, which is up £12·7 million. I calculate that to be a 7·2 per cent. increase. It is—[Interruption.] I was told that my figures were incorrect, but I believe that they are correct. The capital provision is £7·9 million, which is up 122 per cent. I ask the hon. Gentleman to do his homework. There is a later question on Project 2000. It will be implemented in accordance with the amount of revenue provision that is available, the financial circumstances and the ability to introduce it properly and effectively.

If we are to have a good working relationship, I do not want to find falling into my hands letters from the National Union of Public Employees instructing the hon. Gentleman to send certain letters. I shall make the letter available to him so that he can show that he is not a puppet on a NUPE string.



To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will establish an effective monitoring system for ground-level ozone in Wales.

As my right hon. Friend told the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) on 24 May, the ozone monitoring network operated by Warren Spring laboratory includes a site in Wales.

Given the dangers that high ozone levels at ground level can cause, should not the Welsh Office have a monitoring system right across Wales? Elderly people, pregnant women, children under two years of age and people suffering from bronchitis, emphysema and asthma —I am an asthma sufferer—are all at risk. Will the Minister commit himself to ensuring Government and European Community legislation designed to keep down ozone levels, which are highly dangerous to people and to the planet generally?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The levels in May 1990 showed a peak of 120 parts per billion at a number of sites, including Aston Hill in Wales, but there is no cause for concern. I assure the hon. Gentleman that levels of 300 parts per billion are not uncommon in Austria and Switzerland. We have a monitoring network of 17 sites in the United Kingdom and we always keep it under review.

It is an extremely felicitous expression of congratulations to the new knight on the Government Front Bench.

The issue of the ozone layer and ozone gases at ground level is important. It is a further example of a greenhouse gas. Will the Minister assure the House that there is an effective monitoring programme throughout Wales? Here we have an opportunity to make a contribution to the international environment.

I have already referred to the 17 monitoring sites in the United Kingdom which is considered an adequate number. They include a site at Aston Hill in Wales. The hon. Gentleman may know that the Welsh Office is currently funding the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology at Bangor in respect of research into the effects of ozone and other pollutants on the health of plant species in Wales.

Community Charge


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his estimate of the additional number of local government employees employed to process the community charge in Wales.

I have made no such estimate, but I greatly welcome the announcement that the Audit Commission is to undertake a study into the management of charging authorities. I will carefully review the results as they apply to Welsh authorities.

Ministers are remarkably ignorant about many aspects of the impact of the poll tax. I hope that the review will, among other things, identify the need to relieve the burden on thousands of home owners in terraced houses in our communities, who receive no benefit and do not live in areas where the authorities are overcharging on poll tax, but who nevertheless face bills twice as big as the old rates.

We should look at the ways of improving the community charge, and we are doing that. As to the administration of the community charge, Welsh local authorities have done better than the original provision allowed. I believe that £25 million was allowed against collection costs, but only £19 million has been spent, which is a very good result. As to the future, of course we shall find ways of improving the community charge. Labour is still in utter confusion about its alternative.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a bit of a cheek for Labour Members to criticise the community charge when it has a different policy every day of the week? One moment they suggest a roof tax, which would be disastrous, and this week they suggest a return to the old unfair rating system. Should not the Opposition keep silent until they decide what they want?

I assure my hon. Friend that whatever may be my responsibilities, I would not begin to countenance a return to the unjust domestic rating system, which I understand Labour Members are considering reintroducing. It was an iniquitous system, but it has gone now—and good riddance to it.


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to meet representatives of local authorities in Wales; and whether he will discuss the community charge.

I met representatives of the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts in the forum of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance last week, when the community charge was among the issues raised.

Does not the Secretary of State accept that whatever the Audit Commission does or does not do, the high cost of collecting the poll tax in Wales has now risen to £7 per head? That is a direct result of the lack of resources devoted by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor to local councils in Wales to help cope with the burden of the poll tax. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in the current negotiations with local authorities, he will give them enough money to enable them to sort out their problems?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is known as an expert on such issues. He may be a self-appointed expert, but let that not take anything away from him. The hon. Gentleman could not have been listening when I replied to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). A collection cost of £7 per head is considerably below that allowed for in the settlement. An allowance of £25·6 million was made for the cost of collection. As it happens——

The hon. Gentleman says that it was not enough. As it happens, local authorities underspent that provision.

Oh yes they have. [Hon Members: "Oh no they haven't."] If the hon. Gentleman will consult his colleagues, he will find that Welsh local authorities spent £19·8 million. He might not think that that is an underspend, but he must be the only right hon. or hon. Member who does not.

Community Councils


To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many Welsh community councils have decided to vote themselves out of existence; and if he will make a statement.

The electors of two communities, Vaynor in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhoose in the Vale of Glamorgan, have voted in favour of dissolving their community councils. Vaynor community council was formally dissolved on 31 May. The Vale of Glamorgan borough council is making arrangements for the formal dissolution of Rhoose community council.

May I add my congratulations to those already given to the hon. Gentleman for his well-deserved knighthood? Does the Minister agree that it is disgraceful that democratically elected councils should vote themselves out of existence? Will he remove the anomaly that enables them to do so, and take steps to ensure that community councils in Wales carry greater democratic responsibilities rather than less?

There is nothing more democratic than the system which provides for community councils in Wales, because the very setting up of such councils is entirely a matter for the electors. Similarly, so is their dissolution. One cannot be more democratic than that. Giving them additional powers—because the powers that they now have run concurrently with those of district councils—was last discussed in 1985, and the local authorities, particularly at district level, were very much against it.


Hilda Murrell


To ask the Attorney-General if he will meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the case of the late Hilda Murrell.

I have no immediate plans to do so. The Director of Public Prosecutions has received a report from the West Mercia police which he has considered with care. He has suggested further lines of inquiry. I do not doubt that he will consult me if he considers it necessary.

In view of the concerned letter that the Attorney-General has received from Commander Robert Green, Hilda Murrell's nephew, will the Attorney-General clarify the position in relation to David Mackenzie, and what exactly is going to happen next? He says that he is going to talk to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but with what effect?

It is not appropriate for me to comment on, and certainly not to name names in connection with, an investigation that is as yet incomplete. As I said, the Director has suggested further lines of inquiry to the police. The hon. Gentleman can be entirely confident that the Director will give the fullest weight to all concerns that properly arise out of the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the late Miss Murrell was my constituent and I welcome the news that the lines of inquiry are still being pursued. But I am sure that he will agree, and the House will wish to know, that so far not a shred of evidence other than ill-informed rumour has come to light to suggest that the security services were in any way involved in Miss Murrell's demise. Is not it very much to be regretted that her name should continue to be dragged along without any proof coming forward to the authorities from those who continue to use her name for party-political purposes?

It is always tempting to get into detail when an investigation is incomplete. All that it is proper for me to say is that the Director is taking the matter seriously. I cannot properly comment on any particular detail of the report, or on whether names are involved. I am sorry not to be able to say more to my hon. Friend, but I must not.

Departmental Select Committee


To ask the Attorney-General whether his Department has any plans to submit evidence to the Procedure Committee regarding the establishment of a departmental Select Committee to scrutinise the activities of the Law Officers.

No, Sir. The Law Officers' Department is not one of those which the House thought it right to specify in Standing Order No. 130 and the Select Committee on Procedure has not invited comment on any proposal that it should be so specified.

During the past few years the Law Officers have been involved in the fiasco over Peter Wright, the running down of the legal aid service, the mismanagement of the Crown prosecution service, the failure to establish a proper supreme court of appeal and many other issues. Surely the Law Officers, of all Departments, should be the last to place themselves above proper parliamentary scrutiny? Will the Solicitor-General now add his weight to the establishment of a proper departmental Select Committee to study his Department and that of the other Law Officers?

One cannot help but feel that the hon. Gentleman has allowed some bias rather than information to inform his question.

The Law Officers control or superinted administrative functions. There is already an opportunity for scrutiny by Select Commitees as we saw with the examination of the Crown prosecution service by the Home Affairs Select Committee which, incidentally, gave the CPS many laudatory plaudits. The bulk of the Department's work is either to give confidential legal advice or to take or superintend the taking of prosecution decisions. Those are plainly independent functions in which Select Committees would not find it appropriate to involve themselves.

My right hon. and learned Friend is too polite to say it himself, but as the majority of the work of the Law Officers' Department is to advise on the law, would not the provision of such additional scrutiny only give an opportunity to barrack-room lawyers to demonstrate and exercise their ill-informed prejudices at additional public expense?

My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right that any such meddling would be inappropriate to what is an independent or a confidential function. There is an opportunity for scrutiny of other general aspects, and that has already taken place.

Paul Elvin


To ask the Attorney-General what representations he has received concerning calls for a prosecution against British Rail arising from the death of Paul Elvin.

I have received representations from the hon. Gentleman and from his constituent, Mrs. Elvin. I replied to the hon. Member last week.

I am grateful to the Attorney-General for his reply. In the light of the decision of Mr. Justice Turner in the P and O case that it has a case to answer on corporate manslaughter, will there be a review of the liability of public and corporate bodies such as British Rail? I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates the great concern felt at the many deaths and accidents on British Rail sites, all of which happen without criminal prosecution against British Rail. Should not that liability be reviewed so that the regular deaths which occur, which many believe to be the fault of British Rail, can be laid at the door of those who have responsibility for such sites?

The judicial decision to which the hon. Gentleman refers did not come as a surprise to me. With many other people, I have long believed that a corporation is capable of committing the offence of manslaughter. With great respect, however, that is not the point here. The Health and Safety Executive looked closely into the tragic death of Mrs. Elvin's son and concluded, supported by the opinion of counsel, that there is insufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution for manslaughter.

I have looked closely at the papers and, recognising the natural strength of feeling of the hon. Gentleman's constituent, I shall ask the DPP to examine the papers himself. That is, of course, without the slightest intimation that I disagree with the view of the Health and Safety Executive, which I personally believe to be correct. However, in the circumstances of this tragic case, that would be the proper course to follow and I shall do so.

Maguire Case


To ask the Attorney-General when he last discussed the Maguire case with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I discussed the Maguire case with the Director of Public Prosecutions last week when he advised me of the views that he had formed about the safety of the convictions.

Does the Attorney-General agree that the Maguire case is but one of a number of cases concerning the Irish issue where the British legal system has proved less than adequate?

It would be very unwise of me, having, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary invited Sir John May to conduct this inquiry, to make any comments now upon the matters which may form the subject of this report.

On the current trend of running down the English legal system, and the judges in particular, let me say that our legal system is rightly admired. When the judges are heavily and personally criticised and undermined it does great harm to our liberties and the freedom in which we live. The hon. Gentleman has not done that today, but his hon. Friends—unfortunately there is no shortage of them —who have spoken are inclined to undermine the reputation of the judges in a way that I consider to be completely unfounded and damaging.

I dare say that my remarks are slightly out of order, Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is a tribute to the British system that occasionally we can admit that mistakes were made? We look forward to a similar confession from the Republic in respect of another Maguire case.

I shall pass on the latter part of the question.

In this country, we have a procedure through which the Home Secretary may refer a case to the Court of Appeal if he believes that there are grounds for thinking that the conviction is unsafe or unsatisfactory. The Court of Appeal will then examine the matter as though it were a fresh appeal. That seems to me to be an extremely wise and sensible procedure bearing in mind the fact that all institutions are mortal and occasionally fallible.

In his statement through counsel a few days ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that if the Home Secretary thought it right to refer the Maguire case to the Court of Appeal, the Director would not consider it right to seek to uphold the safety of the conviction, the ground that he expressed through counsel on Thursday.

Are not there two lessons to be learnt from the recent cases? First, when the police or prosecution, in their enthusiasm to obtain a conviction, depart from the usual good practice, convictions that might otherwise have stood on appeal—I am not referring to a specific case—may be upset as being unsafe or unsatisfactory. Secondly —although I am not casting aspersions on the judges—no matter how good the adversarial system may be for trials, in recent difficult cases it has been found wanting in regard to appeals. Will the Law Officers' Department give evidence to the May inquiry about a different way to examine these matters, as recommended by some of my hon. Friends and by the Select Committee on Home Affairs?

I should be quite wrong to comment on anything that may form the subject of Sir John May's inquiry. I certainly shall not take up the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman in the first part of his question; all those matters are for Sir John May. As to the merits and demerits of the adversarial system, it falls within Sir John May's remit. If he seeks evidence on it, my Department and others will be happy to provide it.

Overseas Development

Un High Commissioner For Refugees


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was discussed when the Minister for Overseas Development last met the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and if he will make a statement.

I met the new High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Stoltenberg, in Geneva on 5 June. We had a most useful and wide-ranging discussion, focusing particularly on Mr. Stoltenberg's plans for reorganising UNHCR and improving its operational effectiveness. I also announced new British contributions totalling £5 million, which will help UNHCR over its current financial difficulties.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether she believes that Mr. Stoltenberg can take a firm administrative grip on the affairs of his new command, and ensure that adequate resources are made available for the ghastly and growing worldwide problem of refugees?

Yes, I do. Mr. Stoltenberg has been in post for only four months, but in that time he has already begun a serious reorganisation of the Geneva headquarters. His aim is not only to improve overall efficiency, but to cut unnecessary expenditure. We strongly support him in his efforts, and will continue to do so. He will have a high chance of success if other donors follow our lead.

Has the Minister raised with Mr. Stoltenberg conditions in the Whitehead camp in Hong Kong where 22,000 people, 3,000 of whom are children under 10 years of age, are living on an 8-acre site in utterly deplorable conditions? Just what is happening? What assurances can the Minister give the people in those camps about their future? What initiatives are the British Government taking to ensure early screening of those people? Has the Minister visited the camps?

I have not visited the camps, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office has done so. Not only is my Department supporting UNHCR in all its work, particularly because we remain committed to the UNHCR comprehensive plan of action, but the diplomatic wing of the Foreign Office is putting money into improving conditions for the people who are waiting to be screened and is seeking to speed up the screening process.

Although one has the greatest sympathy for the refugees in the camps in Hong Kong—I have visited them——

If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) had a passport, he might know something about the world on which he continually comments.

Although one has great sympathy for these people, is not it a tribute to Government policy that the number of boat people coming over on the monsoon has declined considerably? To what can one possibly attribute that decline except the forthright policy of the Government in returning those people?

The number of Vietnamese boat people arriving in Hong Kong is markedly lower than it was this time last year, but there are still nearly 55,000 people in the camps in Hong Kong, which is the point that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was making. I believe that we have got through to many elements in the Vietnamese Government that it would be much wiser to look after the people in Vietnam—that is what we are doing through our aid programme through the non-governmental organisations—rather than many of them taking to the seas and perishing at sea as happened in the past.

Aid Target


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of gross national product is currently spent on overseas aid; and if he has any plans to raise this to meet the United Nations target for such spending.

As I informed my hon. Friend the member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on 15 June, the United Kingdom's ODA/GNP ratio in 1989 is provisionally estimated at 0·31 per cent.

The Government continue to accept in principle the UN target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP to be allocated to official development assistance. Our prime concern is to ensure that our aid programme is planned to continue to increase in real terms, and is used to maximum effect. Levels of aid spending will continue to depend on economic circumstances and on other claims on public resources.

Will the Minister explain why we are giving such a miserly amount of overseas aid when the French, the Swedes and the Danes can all give more than the United Nations recommendation of 0·7 per cent? Is it that our economy is in such a mess that we cannot afford it, or do we just not care?

We care very much. It is interesting to note that of the 18 western donors only five achieved the target in 1988, and of those only France had a larger aid programme than the United Kingdom. There are two other important UN targets: the 1 per cent. of GNP for total flows and the 0·15 per cent. of GNP for the least developed countries. We meet those targets. The most important point is that between 1985 and 1988 British direct investment in the developing countries was more than half the combined EC total and the United Kingdom exceeded the 1 per cent. target six times in the 1980s.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although official aid is only one element of our overseas aid programme, it is extremely important and meets life-supporting and life-saving needs that cannot be met by commercial sources? Will she continue to do her utmost to ensure that that percentage is increased?

Indeed. I intend to ensure that our aid programme continues to grow. It was 0·31 per cent. in 1986, but since then the GNP has grown by 11 per cent. in real terms. It is better than it was, but I intend to make it better still.

Will the Minister admit that if the Government had maintained Labour's 1979 level of overseas aid the third world would be better off by £8 billion? Does she recognise that just one fifth of that sum would prevent 7·5 million children from dying each year from diarrhoea and other preventable infectious diseases? The Minister, who once had a reputation as a Conservative wet, must be thoroughly ashamed to have presided over a cut in overseas aid of 24 per cent. since 1979.

As I took on this job last July, I hardly think that the hon. Lady's latter comment is relevant. The funds being spent on children, particularly to prevent infectious and tropical diseases, are increasing and we intend them to increase further. It would do the developing world no good if we continued the economic policies that prevailed in 1979 because the third world would simply not benefit. If we have had to curtail our aid while we put our house in order it has been to spend better on sound economics, as we intend to do in the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would he better to get away from this extraordinary United Nations figure and to concentrate on doing what we do well—delivering a high quality of aid? That is what matters.

My hon. Friend is right. The development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that the quality of the United Kingdom's aid programme is better than others. We deliver, pound for pound, more help through our aid and we intend to continue doing so. The quality of aid is paramount and we intend to ensure that it continues to be targeted on the poorest. In 1988, 70 per cent. of our aid was given to the poorest 50 countries.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to send another British delegation to review the current situation in Cambodia.

I have no immediate plans to send another delegation to Phnom Penh. However, we are implementing our commitment to provide support to British NGOs and multilateral agencies active in Cambodia, and a further visit may he desirable for monitoring and other purposes later this year.

Have not things changed since last year, and is not substantial aid required by the Hun Sen Government to tackle the Khmer Rouge and to deal with the serious economic consequences of war? Should not the Government change their policy, recognise the Cambodian Government and offer bilateral aid? Is this another issue of which, as a former wet, the Minister is ashamed?

We are well aware that there have been changes since last year which is why I announced new aid in January. I shall make an announcement soon about the details of that new help to Cambodia. We have no relations with the Hun Sen regime, so there will be no Government-to-Government aid. The Government are working, with our friends and partners, for a comprehensive political settlement and for free elections. I strongly support the current diplomatic activity, including the work of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The recent meeting in Tokyo increased understanding and we shall continue to work for a political solution.