House Of Commons
Thursday 25 June 1992
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]
BRITISH RAILWAYS (No. 4) BILL (By Order)
BRITISH WATERWAYS BILL [Lords] (By Order)
CROSSRAIL BILL (By Order)
EAST COAST MAIN LINE (SAFETY) BILL (By Order)
GREATER MANCHESTER (LIGHT RAPID TRANSIT
SYSTEM) BILL [Lords] (By Order)
LONDON UNDERGROUND (GREEN PARK) BILL
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 2 July.
Peterhead Harbours Order Confirmation
Mr. Secretary Lang presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to Peterhead harbours; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be considered on Wednesday 1 July and to be printed. [Bill 45.]
Oral Answers To Questions
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received from couples wishing to adopt orphans from Romania and other countries overseas; and if he will make a statement.
Early in 1990, representations were made to the then Secretary of State, on behalf of two couples, expressing an interest in adopting a child from Romania. No other representations have been received by the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend will be aware of new and improved procedures in train for handling such cases, and Northern Ireland will be keeping in line with national policy and practice.
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the excellent work done by United Kingdom volunteers in the Romanian orphanages? Will he do all that he can to help couples who wish to adopt a child from overseas, especially in view of the recent difficulties with the Romanian adoption committee's agreement, which effectively prevents more than a handful of Romania's 100,000 orphans from being adopted?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in this important matter. I assure him that we also take the keenest interest in this. We are working hard with the Romanian authorities, although I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that, with adoption from other countries, it is up to the countries concerned to deal with the way in which their nationals leave those countries. The Romanians set high standards of assessment of prospective adopters and the scope for change is somewhat limited. We are doing all that we can to help and I shall be grateful for any assistance that my hon. Friend can give.
While I welcome the raising of standards in Romania and the implications of that for Romania, is not it a fact that, in Northern Ireland, couples have been turned down because they were offered what in my judgment was an improper choice? They had either to opt out of the infertility clinic or go for the adoption of a child from Romania. Is not that an unfair choice, especially for those who have done an excellent job in helping such children?
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am not aware of such a choice being presented to couples. I shall ask my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State responsible for health and social services to look into that matter.
Bearing in mind the magnificent response of the Ulster people to the tragic plight of the Romanian orphans, will the Minister let the House know whether the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has joined with the overseas adoption help line, which gives advice to those who wish to adopt Romanian children?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is an overseas adoption help line, which I believe was launched only last month by the Department of Health in London. I understand that it is becoming a bit of a habit to give out telephone numbers in the Chamber. Will my hon. Friend take on board the number 071 226 7666? If anyone who would like to adopt an inter-country child rings that number, he or she will get the very best advice.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will introduce the videoing of interrogation procedures in Northern Ireland holding centres for a trial period.
Will the Minister accept that, in agreeing to appoint an independent commissioner, the Government accept that they have a problem? Will he agree that it can be extremely difficult for an independent commissioner to move round without some security clearance, and that therefore it will still be known when visits will be made to interrogation centres? Would it not be far simpler to have lay visitors and video recording of all interviews?
The position is as it was as a result of the Bennett report, the name of which at least should be familiar to the hon. Gentleman, which recommended that there should be silent video monitoring of all interrogations at the holding centres, which is now in place, and recommended against the video recording of such interviews, for some very good reasons. The hon. Gentleman is right. We are proposing to introduce an independent commissioner for the holding centres and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I hope to be in a position to make an announcement about that shortly.
I strongly support my hon. Friend on the undesirability of video recording interrogations, but may I ask him again to take the opportunity to stress what importance he attaches to the need to restore confidence in the process so that confidence in the police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary is high and out-of-court settlements are avoided? Will he assure us that he will make that a major point for his consideration?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The security forces, the Government and I are satisfied that safeguards exist against any form of abuse of the proper process. Everybody is clear that the interrogations must be carried out fully within the law and the regulations. Like my hon. Friend, I hope that there will be no further cases where compensation is paid for anything that has gone wrong, but I would point out that often what has gone wrong is of a minor administrative nature and nothing to do with the sort of ill-treatment that is alleged and for which there is no evidence.
We are all agreed about safeguards for suspects, which have been greatly improved during the past five or six years, but will the Minister remember that we are dealing with totally ruthless terrorists in our holding centres and that we must think about our obligations to our vulnerable police service and the law-abiding community? Will he ensure, on the question of video-taping, that no unnecessary initiative is handed back to the terrorist?
I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's point. I repeat that the monitoring of all interviews at all time by a uniformed police inspector, who is no part of the interrogation process, is a safeguard against the ill-treatment of any suspect who has been detained for questioning, and the appointment, when it comes, of an independent commissioner to oversee the procedure independently, separate from the Government, will merely confirm that.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met members of the Irish Government to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland.
I met the Irish Foreign and Justice Ministers on 27 April at an intergovernmental conference. I have had several telephone conversations since then with Mr. Andrews, the Irish Foreign Minister, the most recent on 22 June.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his persistence in the talks, in which he has the Opposition's full support. Has he discussed with his counterparts in the Irish Republic the possibility that if, as we all hope, the talks succeed, there could be a referendum in Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that if there is a clear majority in favour of what could well be negotiated it would further undermine the claims of the terrorists on each side of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland that they have any kind of mandate to carry on with their killings?
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says and I greatly appreciate the interest that he takes and the attitude that he consistently displays towards the problems of countering terrorism in Northern Ireland and also to securing better institutions of government in Northern Ireland. It is extremely important that, whatever structures emerge from the process, which we all hope will succeed, shall have the highest degree of acceptance on both sides of the community. I think that my counterparts in the Irish Government share that view of mine to the full.
Will the Secretary of State inform the House what discussions he has had with his opposite number in Dublin on the calling of a meeting in the formation of strand 3 to have a preliminary discussion with the Northern Ireland parties present on the likely matters that would arise as that strand 3 goes on? Can he tell us why there has been a delay from 12 June until today, with meetings called tentatively and cancelled? Can he further tell us who is putting the barriers in the road and what the objections from Dublin are? When will the meeting take place and will it do so exactly as it was called by the plenary?
The parties to the talks agreed on 12 June, with the consent of both Governments, that a meeting should take place in what is described as strand 3 formation to discuss in a preliminary way the agenda for, and the matters that might arise in, the strand 3 stage of the talks. It is important to maintain the momentum of the talks, which have already achieved much agreement.I had hoped that the meeting, to which both Governments and all parties remain committed, would take place this week. I am sorry that the Irish Government could not agree to that, but I am hopeful that it will take place in the near future. Our officials are meeting now, and I believe that there is every prospect that the kind of meeting that we have in mind will take place very soon.
Will the discussions with the Irish Government deal with the subject of so-called border checkpoints and, in particular, their intensification since the Secretary of State took office? Will the Secretary of State confirm that nothing is ever found at the checkpoints, that they are merely targets and that the victims are the young soldiers and policemen who man them? The last seven soldiers to die in my constituency were all killed at checkpoints, which have now been extended to include private homes in such places as Culmore and Molenan.
The question of cross-border co-operation and border security is a constantly recurring theme at the intergovernmental conferences. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view about the usefulness of the checkpoints; more important and more persuasively, it is not shared by those who are responsible for security in the border areas.Great improvement can be reported in cross-border co-operation between south and north, but more remains to be done. Unfortunately, the border still constitutes a considerable advantage for the terrorist and the checkpoints provide a valuable means of checking that advantage.
My right hon. and learned Friend has just given us the heartening news that there has been some progress in cross-border co-operation. Will he go further and tell us whether, when he last met the Justice Minister of the Republic of Ireland, he gave him a list of wanted IRA terrorist suspects whose extradition to the United Kingdom to face trial is currently required? If so, has there been any progress on that front since the meeting?
There is no need for me to give Mr. Flynn such a list, because the names in question are already well known to the Irish authorities.It is necessary for each country to have effective extradition machinery. Let me remind the House that the judiciary in the Republic of Ireland is no less independent than the judiciary in this country. Although—from the point of view of a Minister who wants persons against whom a proper case exists to be brought to trial in this country—I share the frustration that is felt in regard to some recent events and decisions, it must be borne in mind that both the prosecuting authorities and the judiciary in the Republic have the same degree of independence as those in this country.
I welcome the Secretary of State's confirmation that his announcement on Friday 12 June that a meeting in strand 3 formation and inter-party talks would take place this week was made after consultation with the Irish Government. Does he appreciate our disappointment that the meeting failed to take place, especially as this is the first week since the talks began in which no progress has been made? Will he devote the maximum effort to ensuring that that meeting, and those that would follow from it, take place as soon as possible?
Naturally, I share the hon. Gentleman's disappointment, as I think I have made clear. The lesson of Irish affairs is that one looks not backwards to the last bridge under which the water has flowed but forwards to the future. I have every hope that we shall have a meeting very soon.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, no matter how much foot dragging and time wasting there may be from the Government of the Irish Republic, Her Majesty's Government will not welsh on the agreement of 12 June, but will comply with it in every part—in particular that there will be a meeting between two Governments and not between civil servants? Will he assure the House that the purpose of the meeting in strand 3 formation will be to give preliminary consideration to the issues that may arise in strand 3 and not, as he said earlier, to set an agenda?
The language of the agreement is perfectly clear and is set out in the third paragraph. I do not dissent from what the hon. Gentleman said. It is not, if I recall, specified whether the meeting will be at ministerial or official level. What is specified is that matters that are likely to arise in strand 3 discussions can be the subject of preliminary discussion or examination at that time. I think that there is every prospect that the meeting will take place in a manner that is satisfactory to all concerned.
Is the Secretary of State aware that Labour would like to see greater use made of the Criminal Justice Jurisdiction Act to avoid many of the problems that have arisen with extradition in the past? We share the Secretary of State's disappointment that a meeting was not held this week and hope that one will be held shortly, but will he confirm that the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach may talk about some of these matters at the margins of the Lisbon summit? Will he further confirm that for the strand 2 talks there was again a formation period or the preparation of an agenda, as we are having on strand 3, and that we are not having specific negotiations and agreements as we go along?
Taking the last point first, it is not a question of getting into the substance of the matters that can be expected to arise. These are preliminary meetings, and the one that took place last Friday under the chairmanship of Sir Ninian Stephen was generally regarded as having been very workmanlike, successful and helpful. It is not appropriate for me to anticipate what, if anything, may take place between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in Lisbon. The use that is sought to be made of the Criminal Justice Jurisdiction Act is a matter for the Attorney-General or the Minister of Justice in the Republic. I recall from my previous occupation that there is no reluctance here to use the Criminal Justice Jurisdiction Act, if it is appropriate, having regard to the nature of the offence, that a case should be tried in the Republic of Ireland rather than here. It saves a lot of difficulty if that course is taken, but not every offence makes that appropriate.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress of the inter-party talks.
There have been substantive constructive exchanges in strand 1 of the talks under my chairmanship. Sir Ninian Stephen last week chaired a meeting between representatives of the Government, the Irish Government and the four parties. It completed consideration of a possible agenda for strand 2 of the talks. I hope for an early meeting in strand 3 formation to give preliminary consideration to the issues that are likely to arise in that strand.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and all those concerned on proceeding so successfully through strand 1 to strand 2 of the talks. However, I recall that in 1976 there were signboards all over Northern Ireland saying that seven years was too much, yet here we are 16 years further down the road with the same problems. In the light of that, will he inform the House, clearly, who is responsible for the delay in proceeding to strand 3 and assure us that we will get to the pre-strand 3 talks very soon?
I am grateful for the good wishes with which my hon. Friend began his question, but we are not yet into strand 2. We have had a preliminary meeting to discuss an agenda, but the moment has not arisen when I think it right to propose the transition to strand 2 proper.It is worth pointing out that all involved in the talks have shown real determination to make a success of them and have applied themselves to a very difficult task with, in my respectful opinion, great imagination and determination. I hope that we can now look forward to the pre-meeting for strand 3 and not dwell on the disappointment of not being able to achieve that meeting this week. I have said what I wanted to say about that, and I believe that there are now good prospects for having the type of preliminary meeting that we all want.
Will the Secretary of State inform the House why he has not yet called a substantive meeting of strand 2, as he is required to do by the statement made in the House on 26 March? Will he also inform the House whether he or any of his colleagues gave a written commitment to the Democratic Unionist party that a strand 3 formation meeting would take place this week? If he did, will he confirm that he gave such a written commitment to all the other party leaders involved in the talks? If he did not, will he surmise where such a written commitment may have come from?
The answer to the second part of the question is no, I did not. In answer to the first, I have a rather better recollection of what my right hon. Friend said on 26 March 1991 about the foundation for the whole process of the talks. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is required, when he thinks the moment is right, to propose the transition to strand 2 after consulting the parties. I do not yet think that that moment has arrived. I look forward to it arriving and I wish it to arrive as soon as possible, but I shall not—[Interruption.] Rather than being shouted at by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), I should like to finish the answer. I do not wish to prejudice the outcome of strand 2 by proposing it prematurely.
If the Anglo-Irish Agreement is such a wonderful instrument for consultation, does the Secretary of State have any idea why it has already taken two weeks to establish a mere preliminary strand 3 meeting which, after all, was foreshadowed as much as 15 months ago?
All institutions are mortal and, therefore, fallible—and it seems to me that some are more mortal than others. Those of us who consider the issues of the government of Northern Ireland from any standpoint do not have an easy task, and we must make the best use that we can of the structures already in existence in our task of getting agreement for better and more effective structures. That is what all of us are about.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the structure of the secondary school system in Northern Ireland.
The secondary system of education in most areas of Northern Ireland operates on the basis of selection at 11-plus. It is very popular, and there are no plans to change it at the moment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that among the many excellent aspects of life in Northern Ireland is the quality of its secondary education? Is not it a fact that Northern Ireland has the lowest level of illiteracy, the highest number of A-level results and one of the lowest level of truancy in the United Kingdom? Does not that show that if some form of selection were returned to the rest of the United Kingdom—as might well happen under the Government's new proposals—it would be very good for children in the rest of Britain?
I shall restrict my comments to Northern Ireland and confirm many of the statistics that my hon. Friend mentioned: 30 per cent. of Northern Ireland school leavers achieve at least one A-level, compared to 24 per cent. in England; 75 per cent. of those leaving the grammar schools do so with at least one A-level; 41 per cent. of all Northern Ireland school leavers achieve at least five good GCSE grades, compared to 37 per cent. in England, and finally, 52 per cent. of all school leavers in Northern Ireland go on to further or higher education, compared to 37 per cent. in England.However, I warn my hon. Friend that the selection system is not all rosy, for the simple reason that in Northern Ireland, 15 per cent. of children leave school without any qualifications, compared to 8 per cent. in England—although that 15 per cent. is well below the 27 per cent. of only 10 years ago. That is the issue on which we must concentrate.
The Minister will be aware that parents make comparisons between grammar schools and secondary schools in Northern Ireland. Will he continue to seek adequate funding for secondary schools and ensure that their accommodation and equipment are sufficient to deliver the national curriculum? Will he also seek the support of other departments in the Northern Ireland Office and enlist their help so that they can deal sensitively with areas such as Rathcoole in my constituency, where secondary schools are being rationalised?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that under the education reform capital programme substantial moneys are already being spent exactly as he requests. In the three years to March 1992, more than £45 million has been spent to deliver the common curriculum requirements, and a further £57 million is to be spent over the next three years.I understand the hon. Gentleman's worries about Rathcoole. I have received representations from him, for which I am grateful. I can assure him that there will be great sensitivity. My Department has already had preliminary discussions with the North Eastern education and library board about the rationalisation of secondary school provision in the area. The final proposals will, of course, be subject to the normal provisions.
In the context of his supplementary answer, will my hon. Friend confirm that the proportion of those leaving school without any qualifications in Northern Ireland has been falling more rapidly in recent years than in Great Britain?
I can confirm that, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I said that 27 per cent. of children leaving school in Northern Ireland in 1979–80 left with no qualifications. We can imagine what idle hands can be turned to. The figure now is 15 per cent., which represents rapid progress—and that progress was especially marked in Northern Ireland under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke).
The Minister will be aware that the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 introduced open enrolment provisions which made it illegal for an integrated school to use criteria which allowed it to maintain a balance. If that is not changed, and integrated schools are forced to accept whatever enrolments are made, regardless of the religious balance which would result, they will not be able to be what is generally described as genuinely integrated. I understand that the Windmill integrated school in Dungannon has been placed in that position, with the education board forcing it to accept children so that the balance would be upset. The school has refused, which has led to legal action being taken against it. Is the Minister aware of that position? If so, how does he intend to ensure that the integrated schools ideal in Northern Ireland is maintained?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am indeed aware of the problem, but it is a problem which was established within the legislation in the first place. The subject must be reconsidered. I cannot say exactly how, so I cannot answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but the matter is being actively considered at this moment. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's interest, and I look forward to any further advice that he may offer.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many inquiries the local enterprise development unit had in 1991 regarding business start-up and related matters.
A total of 6,833.
Does not that demonstrate clearly and without a shadow of doubt that Government support for small businesses in the Province remains strong?
Of course—the Government in Northern Ireland is no different from the Government in any other part of the United Kingdom in terms of their commitment to small businesses, and I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the position will remain the same so long as I am doing this job.
Is the Minister aware that most people in Northern Ireland want encouragement to be given to small and medium-sized companies, but that what is important is not just the number of applications but the number which are efficiently dealt with by the Local Enterprise Development Unit? Is he aware that there is increasing concern about LEDU's delays in processing applications and that small businesses are deciding not to bother to make submissions to LEDU but to go ahead without support?
With a new chairman and a new Minister, it is the intention that any problems that have arisen will be dealt with. That is not to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) was anything other than extremely successful in his tenure of office. If the right hon. Gentleman has particular points in mind that he wishes me to address, I should be grateful if he would write to me.
My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that there are still fewer people employed in the small firms sector of the Province than is the case in other parts of the Kingdom. Does he agree that one of the best ways to break down sectarian barriers is to encourage enterprise, initiative and entrepreneurs? What steps will he take to reduce dependency on the public sector in Ulster?
My hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point. Clearly there is always a need to consider how we reduce support from Government. That can come about only if there are more and more successful companies and, of course, successful companies have small beginnings. I want to take away the drip feed system to which my hon. Friend refers as soon as is realistically possible. That would represent an amazing success story for Northern Ireland, but I suspect that it will be some time before that can happen. However, I am conscious of my hon. Friend's interest and of the pressure that he will bring to bear in that regard.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made in defining terms and conditions of staff in the Northern Ireland electoral office.
The terms and conditions of service of staff employed to assist the chief electoral officer are explained in letters of appointment and for the most part are linked to those of the Northern Ireland civil service. Those terms and conditions of service are now being codified by the chief electoral officer.
Can the Minister explain why no grievance procedure is available for staff who wish to appeal and why certain electoral matters that require clarification appear to be decided arbitrarily, in a way which shows little regard for existing legislation?
The chief electoral officer is an independent officer and it would be difficult to provide for any external channel of appeal other than the courts, but I am willing to consider any proposals on how that might be achieved. I invite the hon. Gentleman to talk to me about any particular problem in that regard. These are important issues and I would welcome his advice and consultation.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will ensure that each hospital application for trust status is evaluated in a way which safeguards the relevant health board's obligation to deliver acute hospital services efficiently and effectively within its area of responsibility.
The health and social services boards are responsible for securing services that meet the needs of their populations and they will contract with a range of providers, including trusts, to obtain those services. In that context, trusts will be no different from other providers.
Does the Minister understand my fear that the Western and Southern health boards will find strategic planning for the delivery of acute hospital services virtually impossible if they lose direct influence over Altnagelvin and Craigavon hospitals, respectively? Will he bear in mind that it is crucial not to allow essential services to be endangered by sanctioning a go-it-alone approach by those two main hospitals?
I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that in establishing trusts there is no opting out of the national health service. Health and social services boards in Northern Ireland will provide the full range of services that they provide at present, so any unit that is to be a provider of health care must provide for the people of the area. No board would want to contract with a provider of services unless a good range of services was provided. There would be a far better delivery of health care, especially in the Western board area, than there is at present. As the hon. Gentleman knows, no units in the Western board are currently planning to ask for trust status.
Bearing in mind the future of trust hospitals, will the Minister assure my constituents, who are deeply worried, that no decision has been taken by his noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State regarding the Omagh maternity unit? Will he assure me that the Minister will give most earnest consideration to the united appeal from every section of our community in Mid-Ulster on this vital matter?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for health and social services in Northern Ireland is considering carefully the issue to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The hon. Gentleman will know that my noble Friend has visited both Omagh and Fermanagh in recent weeks and hopes to reach a decision within the next two or three weeks.
Is the Minister aware that the Downe hospital in Downpatrick has applied for trust status? How does he explain that application in the context of the findings of the Down and Lisburn unit of management document that a new hospital should be built? Will he consider that in the context of the directive that the Eastern health board has received from the Department which would close three hospitals in the constituency of South Down? Is the Minister aware of the tremendous distress and worry that that is causing to the people of Northern Ireland, especially as the consultation period is a sham and the Minister at the Northern Ireland Office will not be able to answer to the House for that consultation?
While I answer for health in Northern Ireland in this House, my noble Friend will consider the application for trust status made by the unit to which the hon. Gentleman referred and those made by other units, but I know that he will do so only after full consultation. I know that my noble Friend will consider the application carefully and that consultation with the hon. Gentleman and all others in the community will be most welcome.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many units of housing are now administered (a) by local councils, (b) housing associations and (c) other bodies; and if he will make a statement.
At 31 March 1992, 11,543 units were administered by registered housing associations and 162,371 were administered by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is the sole public housing authority in the province. Local councils and other public bodies administer a few houses for their own employees, but the figures are not available.
Are those units of housing sufficient to meet the housing needs of the people of Northern Ireland? Will my hon. Friend comment on the outstanding achievements of the Housing Executive, which has worked to the satisfaction of all sections of the community? Should not those efforts be warmly supported and encouraged?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. The Housing Executive in Northern Ireland is probably the most effective of its type anywhere in this country and probably in Europe. It is certainly true to say that the reduction in recent years of the waiting list for urgent housing illustrates the important achievement that the Housing Executive has made. I am particularly grateful to the distinguished chairman and members of the Housing Executive for the work that they do.
Given that one of the greatest strengths of housing associations in Northern Ireland is the local people involved in them, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House and the people of Northern Ireland that he will maintain the distinct identities of each such housing association and steadfastly resist any efforts to amalgamate them into a private version of the Housing Executive?
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I was present at a recent function that all the housing associations attended. As one who was formerly actively involved in housing matters on a local authority, I know only too well the importance of small local housing associations. They fulfil a particular need in a particular area. At this stage I am not prepared to give an unequivocal assurance to the hon. Gentleman along the lines that he requested. However, I understand the sentiments that he expresses and I am, as they say, minded to agree with him. [Interruption.]
Order. The House is very restless. I hope that it will settle down. It is disconcerting for hon. Members who have the Floor.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received about publishing the official guidelines for the handling of agents in Northern Ireland.
I have received none.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the guidelines are being reviewed? Will he undertake to report to the House on the outcome of the review? Will he also take this opportunity to apologise to the relatives of the victims of the activities of Mr. Nelson and his colleagues because murder is murder, whoever is responsible?
The question relates to the Home Office guidelines, and reviewing them is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, not for me. On the Nelson case—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady's attention could be directed to the answer—[Interruption.]
Order. The Minister is attempting to answer the hon. Lady.
First, Nelson is serving 10 years imprisonment, imposed in a number of sentences, for very serious offences. Secondly, it is implicit in that sentence that all members of the security forces—those who work with them and for them—are subject to the unbending discipline of the rule of law. They understand that. They understand why it is the case, and they recognise that it is and must remain the case. It follows that if any criminal offence is committed by anyone acting with or on behalf of the security forces, those who suffer in consequence have suffered a wrong, and that is regrettable. There is no getting round that; nor does anyone wish to do so. That said, the security forces face an immensely difficult and dangerous task in combating terrorism—a task that they approach with great dedication and success.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 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.
Is the Prime Minister aware of reports that dentists in Huntingdon are to refuse to treat any new patients, including children, under the national health service because of Government cuts in funding? How will the Prime Minister explain to his constituents that, despite repeated excuses, the Government are failing to give the NHS the level of resources necessary to enable it to provide a first-class level of treatment for all?
There is no question of anyone needing to go without a national health service dentist in Huntingdon. Dentists in Cambridgeshire have more patients than the national average because of population growth. A recruitment campaign for dentists has been planned for some time and will go ahead in September. If necessary, the local family health services authority will seek agreement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to employ salaried dentists. Four dentists are already interested in such appointments. If people have any trouble finding dentists, they should go to their family health services authority, which should be able to help.
May I wish my right hon. Friend well in the United Kingdom presidency of the European Community? Will he ensure that Ministers work hard in the coming months to explain the immense benefits of the Maastricht treaty to the interests of this country—[Interruption.] which will become clearer over time? If that work is successful, it will help to diminish some of the grotesque xenophobia and hysteria of recent weeks.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, the Maastricht agreement was made within the negotiating terms agree by the House, was subsequently endorsed by the House and was agreed at a general election. The Second Reading of the Bill has been approved, it remains Government policy and in due course we shall carry it through.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government now support the extension of Mr. Delors' term of office as president of the European Commission?
It is a matter that will be discussed at the weekend. There is, as I understand it, likely to be only one candidate. If that is Mr. Delors, we shall support him.
Since I take it that that answer is as far as the Prime Minister's reserves of courage are liable to go towards the answer yes, will he give Mr. Delors the Opposition's congratulations—[Interruption] and tell Mr. Delors that we confidently expect him to continue to implement policies which are necessary for this country, are supported by the Labour party and are anathema to Tory Back Benchers?
I am not entirely sure that the right hon. Gentleman carried all his Friend's with him.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent survey that showed that 91 per cent. of British exporters reported either good or very good orders for the first three months of this year? Does he agree that the efforts made by British exporters will lead the way to recovery?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Last month's export figures were extremely good. They were up 6 per cent. by value and 4½ per cent. by volume. I think that that shows the extent to which our competitiveness has increasingly enabled us to penetrate export markets which were previously not open to us.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.
When will the Prime Minister stop going on about his wonderful citizens charter which, so far as I can see, has had only one effect until now, which is that British Rail passengers can keep their tickets? At a much more serious level, pregnant women cannot keep their jobs. What good is a charter which does not allow women to be pregnant without being punished for it?
If the hon. Gentleman cared to read the whole range of citizens charters that we have produced, he would realise that it is a far wider-ranging initiative than he has begun to understand. It puts the consumer and not the producer first, and it will remain right at the heart of Government policy throughout the rest of this decade.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the remarks that he made on Tuesday, when he said that there would be another debate in the House on the Maastricht Bill before Third Reading? May I recommend the attitude of one of his predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who allowed a free vote of the House in similar circumstances when he was piloting the European Communities legislation through the House? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that would be an excellent way to test the water before we come to voting on the Maastricht Bill?
I was not a Member of the House at that moment, and I am not entirely sure that I recall that free vote. The House has now debated and voted on the Maastricht agreement on three occasions. As I indicated a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), we contested the general election on that proposition—a general election at which all my hon. Friends were returned on a manifesto to which they all subscribed. The Maastricht treaty was negotiated in good faith by all member states. I have no intention of breaking the word of the British Government that was given on that occasion; nor do I have any intention of compromising what we agreed on that occasion and wrecking this country's reputation for plain and honest dealing and good faith. In due course, therefore, I shall be inviting my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government and the Bill.
The Government have devoted many millions of pounds and many millions of copies to telling people about the glories of the parents charter and the patients charter. Will the Prime Minister tell the House how many millions of pounds and how many millions of copies have been devoted to telling the British people about the Maastricht treaty?
From memory, I think that the House spent 30 hours debating it before we even went to Maastricht. I do not think that there is any doubt about the realities of what the treaty stands for in the minds of the British people. They knew that at the election, and they supported it at the election.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Secretary of State for Employment on her triumph in Luxembourg yesterday? It is good news for pay packets, good news for jobs and good news for investment. Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that it shows that the best way to fight for British interests is to negotiate strongly, but with a reputation as a country which keeps the agreements that we make and ratifies the treaties that we sign?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I wholeheartedly agree with him. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment achieved an outcome at yesterday's Economic and Social Council which meets every one of the United Kingdom's most crucial objectives. She has preserved the flexibility which employers and employees in the United Kingdom enjoy and which is one of our greatest assets. I must tell the House, however, that the directive is still not—and may not be—agreed in the European Community. In any event, it is still our case, irrespective of the negotiating triumph by my right hon. Friend yesterday, that the treaty base under which it has been brought forward is wrong and that if it is passed we may still challenge it in the European Court.
To ask the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet representatives of London's homeless.
I have no plans to do so at present, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment regularly meets representatives of the voluntary organisations in London who work with homeless people.
Does the Prime Minister realise that the 25 million sq ft of empty offices in London and still more under construction are an insult to the 2,000 people who sleep on the streets of the capital city every night and to the 18,000 people living in hostels? When will the Government direct the construction industry to build houses for rent for those who need them, rather than speculative office blocks to lie idle for the benefit of property speculators? This is a crucial matter and the right hon. Gentleman stands condemned by those who are forced to sleep on the streets at night.
The hon. Gentleman, standing in a glass house, should be careful where he throws his bricks. Of the top 10 authorities with empty properties, six are Labour controlled and none is Conservative controlled. If the hon. Gentleman were really concerned, he would be putting pressure on Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Hackney, Knowsley and Newcastle upon Tyne. He might then get homeless people back into accommodation.
Order. I remind the House that this is a closed question.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that homelessness in London is the result of decades of rent control, which Conservative rule got rid of, and of incompetence by high-spending Labour councils?
I agree with my hon. Friend. There is scope for the private rented sector to grow and to provide low-cost flexible accommodation. The hostility of the Labour party over the years has cramped that growth and prevented that property becoming available for people who needed it. We have consistently sought to expand the privately rented sector, most recently with our proposed tax exemptions to help people who want to rent a room to do so. I hope that Opposition Members will support that policy.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.
May I invite the Prime Minister to make time in his busy schedule to visit my constituency to see for himself why Larne is the second busiest ferry port in the United Kingdom and to hear from the people there why he should use his influence to persuade the European Commission that Larne, Belfast, Stranraer and Dumfries be recognised as Euro-routes to and from Northern Ireland?
I should be happy to take up that invitation from the hon. Gentleman. Northern Ireland is well served by its ports and I am confident that they will continue to provide the routes for most of the Province's business and tourist traffic to Great Britain and onwards to Europe. They have performed magnificently in the past and I believe that they will continue to do so, and to grow, in the future.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what matters most to people is the amount that the Government take in tax from their wage packets? Bearing that in mind, may I ask him to confirm that he has no plans to follow the tax policies advocated by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) which, even in the view of many Labour Members, contributed greatly to the Opposition's defeat?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Our policies of low taxation and low inflation were clearly what the electorate wanted at the last general election. I am aware of the dispute about why the Opposition lost the election, and I am sorry to note that for the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) the honeymoon is over before the marriage has begun.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the National Children's Home report issued this week, which shows that each day in Scotland 41,000 families on income support cannot afford to buy food, that 500 families are now housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and that the city of Glasgow has the highest infant mortality rate in Europe? If the Prime Minister really believes in the family, does he share my disgust at that situation and my desire for urgent action?
The definition used by the National Children's Home for "poverty" was misleading, as the hon. Gentleman will know. He will also know that this year's uprating of income support was substantially higher than the retail prices index. The definition used by the National Children's Home defines someone as poor if he or she spends less than half the national average spending per head. The hon. Gentleman will realise that that measure of poverty excludes a Greek spending the average in Greece, while a richer person in the United Kingdom spending less than half the national average is classed as poor. That definition does not stand up to examination.
Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to declassify as much material as possible dating from before the second world war before it is all released in Moscow and Washington?
I am sure that my right hon. Friends will have heard my hon. Friend's advice.
Fishing Incident (Scilly Isles)
(by private notice): To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the action by French fishermen against Cornish fishermen and their nets off the Scilly Isles last night. [Interruption.]
Order. Will hon. Members who are leaving please do so quietly? We have a lot of business before us today and the Minister is waiting to respond to the private notice question.
The British fishing vessel, St. Uny, reported an incident between British netters and French trawlers at 1750 BST yesterday. The incident was reported to Falmouth Coastguard as taking place in a position 16 miles north-west of the Isles of Scilly. The coastguard requested that the fishery protection vessel HMS Brecon be sent to the area at 1830 BST. That was confirmed by the inspectorate duty officer at 1900 hours. At 1830 BST, the British fishing vessel Britannia IV advised the coastguard that it was being harassed by a number of French trawlers. Two of those vessels were identified as the Concarneau-registered Rhapsody and Larche.The British vessels claim that the French vessels deliberately towed through their gear and, when the St. Uny approached the Larche to advise the position of the nets, it was pelted with lumps of metal and pieces of chain. HMS Brecon arrived at the scene at 2 o'clock this morning but by that time the vessels had left the area. There have been a number of similar incidents previously, the most recent of which was just four days ago. On each occasion the French vessels were from Concarneau, and the Rhapsody was identified in an earlier incident. The British vessels are fishing with bottom set tangle nets. It is reported, but not confirmed, that at least one of the British vessels is fishing an area of approximately 10 square miles. The British vessels have claimed that there has been extensive damage to their gear but there are happily no reports of any injuries or damage. We shall take statements from the British vessels as soon as they arrive in their home ports. The Britannia and the Sardia Louise are back in Newlyn and we shall seek details today. We have just received new reports of a further incident involving the St. Uny and the Larche. We are investigating it urgently and HMS Brecon is on the scene and has orders to board the French vessel. That will take place within the hour. Two hours ago, I spoke to the French Fisheries Minister, Mr. Charles Josselin, and expressed very forcibly the anger of British fishermen and my own anger at repeated incidents involving French vessels—often the same ones and involving the same English vessels—in these waters. Mr. Josselin vigorously condemned the behaviour of the French boats. He will hold an inquiry to establish the facts once the boats are back in port, and if the allegations are confirmed he has promised very firm action. In particular, he indicated that two sanctions could be taken in the event of the allegations being substantiated: first, economic sanctions in the shape of compensation for loss of earnings and replacement or repair of gear; secondly, sanctions in the shape of the withdrawal of the captains' tickets. He asked me to send urgently all the evidence about the incidents and estimates of the losses sustained. The first details have already been sent. This is a violent and outrageous incident. The British Government will sustain pressure on the French Government to make sure that their vessels are brought to book.
I thank my hon. Friend for that full statement and for the prompt action taken by Her Majesty's Government. Is he aware of the burning anger felt, particularly by Cornish fishermen, at the latest series of deplorable incidents, especially as they come at the end of a long line of similar outrages by some French vessels? Will he keep up the pressure on the French Government in the knowledge that it is only they who can ensure that this totally unacceptable behaviour is stamped on firmly? Will he ensure that the fishery protection vessel remains on station as long as there is any threat of further incidents, and that fishery protection will be intensified if there are any more such events? Will he welcome and support the action taken by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation in establishing a sensible working arrangement with French fishermen, particularly those from the port of Concarneau?
Yes, I will. It is important that we do the maximum to sort out such problems bilaterally. I can assure my hon. Friend that the fishery protection vessel will remain on station while there is a risk. The district is also under aerial surveillance. It is important that the French discipline their fishing vessels. I shall maintain pressure on the French Government. I am as aware as my hon. Friend is that the incident was the last in a long sequence of clashes involving not merely French vessels, and we must bring such incidents to an end.
Is the Minister aware that the fishing fleets of Cornwall and other parts of the United Kingdom will be concerned to ensure that there is effective prevention, not simply effective enforcement? Is the Minister aware that there was a considerable delay between the first call from the fishing boats involved and the arrival of HMS Brecon? Will he assure the House that, during the United Kingdom's presidency of the Council of Ministers, the most effective steps will be taken to ensure that, if one member country is unable to deal effectively with such a scandal, the other countries will be in a position to take action?Are any of the alleged offences extradictable? As it is an open secret that the Ministry is currently considering whether to continue the contract for fishery protection with the Royal Navy, will he confirm that the present conflict will not encourage the view that a privatised service would do the job better?
Order. Before the Minister responds, may I make a plea to the House? A number of hon. Members are interested in the subject, so if each Member could ask just one question of the Minister, we could proceed quickly.
The Royal Navy vessel was on the scene quickly, but, as a matter of common sense, it must be obvious that we cannot patrol every square mile of the ocean all the time—there are not enough Royal Navy vessels to do that. As for market testing, we are obliged to test that we receive value for money from all the services that we commission—that is now taking place. We will not make a decision that means that we do not receive a degree of fishery protection at least as good as the present service. We are finding out the facts of the incident from the crews of the French and British vessels so that the French Minister can be given the means to fulfil his promise. It is absolutely essential that member states discipline their vessels over such incidents, as we do.
In the event of those allegations being substantiated, could they lead to the arrest of the French fishing vessels which have been partaking in those dreadful incidents? Will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that, if that is so, those vessels will be arrested and, with the assistance of continued aerial surveillance, their skippers will be brought to the courts?
I gave my right hon. Friend the assurance that, when we can catch vessels and their crews who are guilty of an offence for which we have the powers to charge them, we will not hesitate to bring charges.
Does not this incident, paralleled as it is by similar outrages in the North sea on the part of Dutch beamers—particularly perpetrated on Grimsby vessels and their gear—show how crazy it would be to consider contracting out the fishery protection service?
We have to deliver protection to our fishing vessels. There are four fishery protection services: the aerial service in Scotland, the maritime service in Scotland, the aerial service in England and Wales, and the Navy. Three of those four are carried out by private contracted vessels entirely satisfactorily. That is not a reason to change; it does mean that we have to confirm whether we are getting the best value for money and the best protection that we can deliver to our fishermen. That is what we are doing—nothing more, nothing less.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the fishermen of Hastings and Rye are just as concerned as the fishermen in the western approaches about this depredation by the French? Will he welcome with me the French insistence that they will take sanctions against those who perpetrate these incidents—and ensure that they will apply also to fishermen along the French coast opposite England?
The French were fishing where they had a right to fish—there was no question of their fishing there because of the derogation. They were fishing in international waters that come under the United Kingdom supervision framework. Of course, I accept that my hon. Friend's fishermen constituents are concerned about this. We are in the business of protecting all British fishermen. There have been repeated incidents, some of them between Englishmen and Cornishmen. The sensible thing to do is to sort out the matter as between friends and by gentleman's agreement—but if we cannot, we will have to ensure that we deliver protection. We will do so.
The House will welcome the firm response from the French Minister, but we want not firmness of response but action to resolve such conflicts. Bearing in mind the violence of such conflicts and the threats to fishermen at sea, will the Minister reconsider his proposals for privatising fisheries protection? Does he agree that the Royal Navy commands considerable authority and respect; and that undermining that authority while fishing stocks decline—that is likely to lead to further conflicts—will put at risk our fishermen at sea?
No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise. A significant part of our fishery protection is already carried out by private contractors, and we receive no complaints about its efficiency. We will therefore be testing the market to determine whether we get best value for money. We are nowhere near making a decision yet, but whatever decision is taken, it will deliver full fishery protection to our vessels. That is the whole point of the exercise.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is growing anger and resentment in the west country about the propensity of the French to take the law into their own hands? First, British lorries were blockaded in Calais by the French. Then British lambs were burnt by the French. Now our fishing fleet is attacked by the French. Is my hon. Friend aware that, if he takes a tough line on this, he will enjoy the support of my constituents, the House and the nation?
I am, and I will.
We must now move on to business questions.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?
Yes, Madam. The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 29 JUNE—Remaining stages of the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Bill. TUESDAY 30 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Boundary Commissions Bill. Motions on the Child Support Regulations and the Council Tax Benefit (General) Regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report. Motions on Select Committees related to Government Departments. WEDNESDAY I JULY—Remaining stages of the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill [Lords] THURSDAY 2 JULY—Debate on the programme of activity and themes of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Community on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. FRIDAY 3 JULY—Private Members' motions. MONDAY 6 JULY—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate described as "The Recession in Industry" followed by a debate described as "The Government's Failure to Contain Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
[Tuesday 30 June Child Support Regulations and Council Tax Benefit Regulations
As the House will be interested to learn of the British Government's support for the confirmation of Mr. Jacques Delors in his post, can we be assured that, on the Prime Minister's return from Lisbon, he will make an oral statement explaining exactly his reasons for endorsing Mr. Delors?I welcome the statement about Select Committees. I congratulate the Leader of the House on taking the necessary steps to change the Standing Orders to allow Select Committees to be established to scrutinise Departments of State, as he has outlined. Will he confirm that, in contradiction to what happened throughout the last Parliament, when his predecessor was in conflict with the Standing Orders, it is the Government's intention, in this Parliament, to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Will the Leader of the House clarify the Government's position on the Maastricht Bill? Although I welcome the debate that is to be held next Thursday on developments in the European Community under the British presidency, will he reaffirm that the Government intend to publish a statement on the situation with respect to the Maastricht treaty and the Government's Bill relating to it, and that that statement to Parliament, which the Prime Minister pledged some time ago, will be the subject of a separate debate?
I shall not engage in further interpretation of the comment made about Mr. Delors by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a quarter of an hour ago during Question Time; nor will I pre-empt anything that my right hon. Friend might wish to say to the House on his return from Lisbon. I can respond to the hon. Gentleman's serious question—whether there will be a statement on my right hon. Friend's return—by saying that the answer is yes.I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's words about the Select Committees, and I am extremely pleased to be able to put the House into the position from which it can pave the way for further progress on this matter. It is the Government's firm intention that a Scottish Select Committee should be established. The Standing Orders already provide for such a Committee, as the hon. Gentleman said. What will be contained in the amendment to the Standing Orders that I shall be laying later today is a proposal to have a Scottish Select Committee of 11 members, rather than 13, which will bring it into line with virtually all the other Select Committees. That in itself is intended as easing the way forward to bringing about the appointment of a Scottish Select Committee. As to the Maastricht Bill, I shall reply to the hon. Gentleman in a slightly different way from that which he invited me to. He will recall that both the Prime Minister and, subsequently, I said that, before the Government invited the House to make further progress on the Bill, we envisaged a further debate paving the way. That debate is not the debate that I am proposing for next week. The debate that I am proposing for next week is one that I can describe in shorthand terms, without going back over the phrasing that I used earlier, as marking the inauguration of the United Kingdom presidency of the EC, and enabling the House and the Government to discuss that.
Given the paraphernalia that is attached to the Dispatch Box in the interests of our wider public, will my right hon. Friend, during the coming week, ask his colleagues on the Treasury Bench not to shout because it makes a disagreeable noise for those behind, and perhaps subsequently to have a quiet word with those on the Opposition Front Bench along the same line?
I am always happy to have a quiet word with those on the Opposition Front Bench, and I usually try to avoid shouting myself. I am sure that all in the Chamber and those who read Hansard will have noted my right hon. Friend's suggestion.
Can the Home Secretary be dragged to the House next week to make a statement explaining why he has issued secret instructions relaxing the primary-purpose rule? Is the Leader of the House aware that Home Office officials have sought to adjourn scores of immigration appeals recently in which spouses, particularly those with British citizen children, are seeking to enter the United Kingdom, for those cases to be reviewed, the clear implication being that they will not be allowed to enter? Those instructions have been concealed from the House of Commons. They should be made public, and the Home Secretary should explain why he has made those instructions so secret.
I do not think that you, Madam Speaker, the House or the hon. Gentleman would expect me to undertake to drag my right hon. and learned Friend to the House—apart from anything else, he is bigger than I am. But I shall certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention.
Will my right hon. Friend undertake to include in our schedule a debate on AIDS? He probably reads the newspapers as much as any other hon. Member and will know about the alleged incident involving people in the neighbourhood of my constituency who may have been deliberately infected by a man knowing that he was HIV-positive. Will my right hon. Friend organise such a debate at some stage so that we can examine the legal implications of such an incident?
I well understand the concern that must be felt by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, not only those from the relevant part of the midlands. I cannot undertake to provide time for a debate but, if my hon. Friend considered it appropriate, he may wish to seek an Adjournment debate.
Following the statement made this week by the Secretary of State for Scotland, which appeared to rule out any substantial reform of government in Scotland following the Prime Minister's stocktaking exercise, will the Leader of the House make Government time available next week for Scottish Members to raise on the Floor of the House the Government's abject failure to recognise the democratic demand for a directly elected and powerful Scottish Parliament in Scotland in line with the EC principle of subsidiarity?
I am clearly not in a position to predict or pre-empt the outcome of my right hon. Friend's stocktaking exercise. My response to the hon. Gentleman's particular point on this occasion would be that, as I witnessed, there was a lively and well-attended Scottish Question Time earlier this week in which the hon. Gentleman participated. Those matters have had a fair airing in the past few days.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in anticipation of the debate next Tuesday on Select Committees, 88 hon. Members have signed an early-day motion recommending the retention of the Energy Select Committee? Has my right hon. Friend any plans for any Select Committee announced to the House this afternoon? Will next Tuesday's debate be of an adequate length to allow all views to be aired, will it be in the early hours of the morning or at a sensible time, and will there be a free vote?
The amendments that I am tabling today provide for the deletion of the Energy Select Committee. That is not unreasonable, because the basic principle on which departmental Select Committees have always operated, and the basis on which I have been pressed to provide Committees in respect of national heritage and science and technology, has always been that they should match Departments, and that is a sensible proposition on which to rest.With regard to the timing of the debate, perhaps I can rest on further discussions through the usual channels. I cannot give an exact undertaking about the timing of the debate, especially in view of my hon. Friend's hint that he might want it to be a long debate, in which case the timing might in part be in his hands. Similarly, voting is a matter which is best considered in other ways.
The Leader of the House has just described the principle of shadowing Departments. I am sure that Northern Ireland Members hope that that principle will be extended to them.Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea when he expects the Scottish Select Committee to be set up, how many members it will have and whether all Scottish Opposition parties will be represented? He mentioned Scottish Question Time. Will he bear in mind the fact that Scottish Members will not have another opportunity to question Ministers until 21 October? Does he not consider that that is outrageous, and that efforts should be made to set up a Scottish Grand Committee next week—or at least before the House rises—so that questions can be asked?
I shall fall back on a traditional formula: I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's latter comment to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. As for his earlier questions, as I said earlier, the amendment that I am tabling today will provide for a Scottish Select Committee with 11 members. The details of its membership are, of course, a matter for the Committee of Selection.
Will the Leader of the House give us a clear assurance that, if the Government do not use their powers to block the reappointment of the President of the European Commission, the proposals for increased expenditure and increased resources for the EC that Mr. Delors has submitted will be available in the Vote Office in time for Thursday's debate?
I cannot give my hon. Friend such a specific undertaking off the cuff. In any event, it is likely that there will be further discussion of the future financing of the EC—which is, I imagine, what my hon. Friend has in mind—in Lisbon over the weekend, and that will entail examining the position after Lisbon.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen my early-day motion 236, which calls for the ring-fencing of community-care functions, and has been strongly supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House?[That this House expresses its grave concern that funds for community care will not be specifically allocated in the Revenue Support Grant after April 1993, when local authorities will have clear and specific responsibility for the provision of community care; believes that funds must be targeted if the quantity of services is to increase to meet needs and the quality to meet demands; supports the recommendation of Sir Roy Griffiths for a specific grant to be given to local authorities, as the basis for local funding; notes that a specific grant provides a mechanism for Parliament to scrutinise fairly the performance of local authorities, allows local authorities to plan and developservices with a guaranteed base of funding, and makes it impossible for local authorities to allow funds for community care to be diverted for any other purpose; notes that Ministers already utilise specific grants for mental illness, and for drug and alcohol abuse; and most strongly urges the Government to announce that the funds for community care after April 1993 will be clearly earmarked.] If, as The Times reports, we have won and the Government have changed their policy, why cannot the House be told that? When will a statement be made?
I am not in a position to confirm press reports that the right hon. Gentleman has seen, not all of which I consider to have been completely accurate. He will, however, be aware that, as it happens, the issue of community care will arise in one way or another during the debate on the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill that is scheduled for next Wednesday.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to read early-day motion 204?[That this House notes that on 1st January 1993 there will not be a requirement to customs clear goods in free circulation within the European Community, that the collection of VAT will move from payment at the point of entry to an audit method, similar to that used for domestic transactions and that this change may result in a large number of freight forwarders losing their jobs over night, with estimates currently predicting 3,500 redundancies in the United Kingdom; notes that the Institute of Freight Forwarders and the British International Freight Association do not object to these changes; however, bearing in mind that the loss of jobs is a direct result of a political decision, as opposed to market forces, considers it necessary for further funds to be made available by the Government for retraining and to encourage employees to remain at their posts until the end of the year; and further considers as the Dutch and French Governments have provided funds to assist the forwarding industries in their respective countries, that this is a precedent and the United Kingdom could join in to make the transition period between now and 1st January 1993 as smooth a change over as possible.] The motion describes the difficulties that will be faced by the Institute of Freight Forwarders when we enter the single market on 1 January. The institute forecasts 3,500 redundancies in the area involved. Although its members—many of whom are constituents of mine—are not taking an aggressive line, they nevertheless say that the decision has been political rather than commercial. They look to the Government for some form of help, for instance with job training.
I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. As he will know, however, the Government have already established a wide range of measures to help people who are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs in freight forwarding or any other industry.
May we have a statement next week about the fiddling of proxy votes down in Cornwall? May we have an assurance that, when that statement is made, we shall be able to consider all the other parts of Britain where—in such places as nursing homes, especially private nursing homes—the Tory party is using agents to fiddle votes left, right and centre? Let us have no more rabbiting on about a citizen's charter while the Tory party, from the very top, is taking people's votes away.
As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, the allegations to which he has referred are being investigated by the police, who have sent a preliminary report to the Crown prosecution service. I think he will understand that, in the circumstances, I neither can nor should comment further.
Having rightly earned the gratitude of the House for his announcement about Select Committees, will my right hon. Friend earn it further by saying when we will debate the Jopling report?
I can give a pretty clear indication in one sense: the business that I have announced today runs up to 6 July, 10 days before the proposed date of the recess, subject to the progress of business. I have given commitments that we shall debate the Jopling report in that period. That narrows it down. I cannot narrow it down further today.
Has the right hon. Gentleman read reports in the Northern Ireland press on the imprisonment of an individual for fraud at the De Lorean motor company? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement to the House next week on that serious fraud and to tell the people of Northern Ireland whether the Government intend to seek the extradition of John De Lorean from the United States to stand trial, since he is alleged to have benefited very much from the fraud?
That is a pretty direct request that I am asked to transmit to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I shall ensure that it is transmitted.
Should we not have an early debate on the need for adequate accommodation to enable Members of Parliament and their staff to deal with, in my experience, the increasing case load of constituency correspondence? Is progress on the new parliamentary building in jeopardy as a result of the setback in the financing of the Jubilee line extension? If so, is not that of direct concern to the House?
Obviously, matters of accommodation are of concern to the House and I am aware of the pressures that are felt by many Members of Parliament and their secretaries. I am glad, therefore, that this week we have been able to set up the new Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's comments can, should and will be drawn to its attention.
Parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive is rapidly disappearing. In the three-month recess, we shall not be able to question the Executive in the House. Privatisation has helped to get rid of the Department of Energy and the Energy Select Committee. Agency agreements mean that hon. Members can no longer ask about a host of matters. We have had to wait ages for Select Committees to be established. Will there be a Select Committee on Northern Ireland, because under direct rule Northern Ireland Members can investigate matters affecting them only on the Floor of the House?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not get drawn down the wide paths of the introductory part of his question, but I should like to respond to the latter part of it. The position on a Select Committee on Northern Ireland is fairly well known to the House. In a Government response to the Procedure Committee's report on Select Committees, we said that we see a need for further consideration of the desirability and practicability of such a territorial Committee. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland believes that this is one of a series of complex issues that are best left open for consideration in the broad context of the current political talks. It certainly is not ruled out, but it is felt that it should be pursued in that context.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Adjournment debate on Monday night has the slightly romantic title of "Camping by Travellers". It is being initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer). Will he assure me that it will not be just an ordinary Adjournment debate but that much attention will be focused on it, because we are talking not only about Worcestershire but about Dorset, Devon, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and almost every rural county that is now being plagued by these people? The police are being diverted from their proper tasks, and farmers are being put to enormous trouble and expense. Could he please deal with that?
My hon. Friend will understand that I can hardly promise to rush through an amendment to Standing Orders to provide for an extension of the usual half-hour Adjournment debate, but I can undertake—I am sure that many Members on both sides of the House would wish me to do so—to underline to the Minister who will reply to the debate the concern that is felt by many Members.
When will we get the Government's response to the report of the Top Salaries Review Body? Will it be next week? Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the Prime Minister that their response should take the form of a statement to the House and not a reply to a written question?
I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but beyond that I cannot make a prediction because my right hon. Friend has not yet received the report.
Madam Speaker, you will have heard my right hon. Friend announce the business for Monday, which is the remaining stages of the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Bill. You may also recall that I have asked my right hon. Friend on several occasions whether a White Paper will be issued before the House finishes debating the Bill, but we have still not received one. Are you aware that we debated the issue in Committee and that the vote was tied, but that you and your colleagues will shortly be called on to choose the amendments for Monday's debate? May I ask you to bear that in mind, and may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the White Paper will appear in time for the House to debate it before we rise for the summer recess?
I plainly cannot say that the White Paper will arrive before the House is invited to debate the Bill further on Monday, nor am I in a position to give a precise undertaking about the timing of the White Paper, but, clearly, I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport is aware of the way in which my hon. Friend has pressed me again on the issue. However, I had the feeling that a good part of my hon. Friend's question was directed at you, Madam Speaker, rather than at me.
Is the Leader of the House aware of what must be described as directives issued by the Northern Ireland Department of Health and Social Services to the boards, which will have a devastating effect on health provision in Northern Ireland? In view of the fact that the Minister involved is not a Member of the House, that the consultation period will end before the House reconvenes and that the Minister refuses to meet Members of Parliament to discuss the matter, will he please find time to enable the Northern Irish Members of Parliament to discuss the very dramatic change in health provision in Northern Ireland?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, there have been substantial opportunities to debate Northern Ireland affairs generally in the past week or two. Nevertheless, I shall draw the request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to have an early debate on the present size, and diminution in the last decade, of the British merchant fleet, and the defence implications?
Although I recognise my hon. Friend's concern and the reasons for it, I cannot promise to find Government time for a debate before the recess, but he will be aware that there are usually—and, indeed, will be—significant opportunities for such a debate on the motion for the Adjournment of the House for the summer recess and in Adjournment debates thereafter. My hon. Friend might like to bear them in mind.
Could the Leader of the House assure us that we shall have a statement on Monday at the beginning of the Report stage of the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Bill, because the legislation is putting the Leeds-Bradford electrification in jeopardy? It is because of the legislation that the Royal Bank of Scotland has said that, although the overhead electrification has been started, it cannot go ahead with the leasing of the rolling stock until it receives guarantees from the Government about future provision. The Government will not give those guarantees, so will the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be a statement? There will be an important meeting in Bradford city hall at 5 pm tomorrow, and we need some means of determining the provision; otherwise, everything will be put in jeopardy and the fault will lie with the Government.
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking about a statement in advance of Monday's debate apart from what I have already said about a statement on the outcome of the Lisbon Council. As I said last week, the hon. Gentleman has shown considerable ingenuity in these matters and I have no doubt that he will find a way of extracting a comment from the Minister during the debate.
Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read early-day motion 263?[That this House warmly welcomes the establishment of National Music Day on 28th June; and encourages as many people as possible, professionals, amateurs and first timers, to participate in this exciting event.] At the same time, is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a grave threat to the teaching of music, especially to primary school children, as a result of the withdrawal of peripatetic music teaching in many parts of the country, including Leeds? Would it be possible to have a debate on that subject at an early date, because so many parents, children and teachers value the teaching of music and do not want it to be threatened?
My hon. Friend may like to remember what I said a few moments ago about the various opportunities that will arise in the next two to three weeks for raising various matters—including, perhaps, the one that he has in mind.The Government warmly welcome national music day, and hope that the celebrations that take place this weekend will become an annual event.
Have the Government forgotten the situation of the 5,000 or more of our fellow countrymen working in Libya? Next week, will he consider the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), as Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation, to consider at least three orders which the Committee considers should be taken on the Floor of the House? Is that not all the more urgent in view of what some of us learned this morning from Lloyd's of London—that serious people in the insurance market at Lloyd's want a statement to be made before considerable sums are paid out in relation to Lockerbie?
I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and shall certainly consider his request.
May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention a letter in The Times written by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about the outcome of the important EC Council of Transport Ministers in Europe on Monday, which will be of the greatest consequence to the travelling public, to the airlines, and to the future of competition and the regulation of civil air transport within Europe? The Secretary of State for Transport did not make a statement to the House, as he should have done, so will the Leader of the House protect the interests of this place by ensuring that the House has time to debate civil air transport at an early date?
In all honesty, I must say that it would be difficult to fit in a debate before the recess, alongside all the other matters which the House is interested in debating. However, an opportunity may arise on one of the occasions that I have mentioned. I endorse what I took to be a compliment, at the outset of my hon. Friend's question, on my right hon. Friend's the Secretary of State's achievements at the Council. It was a great achievement on the way to the completion of the single market, especially the aviation package, which will be greatly to the advantage of industry and of consumers and customers in this country.
Does the Leader of the House recognise the growing concern about the obvious ease with which pension funds can be abused, which was illustrated by the Belling group abuse highlighted this week? Will he say whether the Government will be able to make a statement next week on how they intend to introduce immediate legislation to block those abuses and safeguard pension funds, for the security of the people to whom those funds really belong?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that matter—for the second time in a few days, I believe. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security announced only three or four weeks ago the setting up of a substantial inquiry into the law and regulations on pension funds. That is the right way to proceed. It will take more than a week or two, but my right hon. Friend has said that it will be pressed ahead with considerable vigour.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that three of my constituents were killed in a serious motor accident on the A420 at Longcot in south Oxfordshire on Monday afternoon? In view of that, and of the continually rising road toll in this country, will he ask his colleagues in the Department of Transport to come to the House, and will he provide time, for a debate on road safety and the resources available for improving some of the narrow and winding roads that still exist on our main road network?
I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to my hon. Friend's comments. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members in saying that we join my hon. Friend in expressing sympathy for the relatives of those killed in that awful accident.
May we have a statement from the Home Secretary early next week on the press reports, especially those which appeared yesterday, that the Cabinet has finally decided that there should be a limited form of parliamentary scrutiny of the Security Service? Is the Leader of the House aware that if, as we hope, such a statement is made before the House rises for the summer recess, many of us will take exception to the fact that the parliamentary scrutiny will be limited and that the committee will be confined to the most senior Privy Councillors on the Back Benches? May we have a debate on the subject?
Like the hon. Gentleman, I have noted the speculation, but I cannot make further comment about it.
Would the Leader of the House consider persuading the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Scotland to come clean on the reports and controversy surrounding the secret meetings between the Scottish Office, Ofwat and CitNat regarding the idea of setting up six boards to take over and to privatise the Scottish water industry?
For once, one of the intended recipients of the endless messages I pass—the Secretary of State for the Environment—is sitting beside me and can receive this message directly. I will ensure that it is also transmitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate or even a statement on the case of the British nuclear test veterans? Is he aware that I recently received a reply from the Prime Minister in which he stated that he was now ready sympathetically to consider a claim for compensation? There has been further press speculation this week that the Government will change their minds after so long. Does the Leader of the House not think that it is time that the ever-diminishing number of veterans and the ever-increasing number of widows got justice?
I will draw the attention of my relevant right hon. Friends to the hon. Gentleman's point.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 310, which has the support of almost 100 of my hon. Friends?That this House notes with concern the findings of the Report by the National Citizens' Advice Bureaux into the employment rights of pregnant women; and calls upon the Government to provide effective protection against dismissal to all pregnant women, irrespective of how long they have been employed, and to approve The Pregnant Women at Work Directive at the Council of Ministers meeting on Wednesday 24th June.] In light of the publication this week of both the report by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the annual report by the Equal Opportunities Commission, does the Leader of the House agree that next week would be an appropriate time for a debate, in Government time, on the important issues raised in both reports?
The hon. Gentleman will, I think, know that the Government made a commitment in the Conservative party manifesto to strengthen the rights of pregnant women in the workplace, and we will seek to do that in appropriate ways. I cannot promise a debate next week.
In view of the Government's declared commitment to Europe, the correspondence received from the European Commissioner for the Environment and the Prime Minister's statement in Rio and in the House in support of species conservation, will the Leader of the House find time next week or at least before the recess to discuss early-day motion 68?That this House expresses concern that the Secretary of State for Transport appears to be willing to press ahead with the construction of the East London River Crossing and the destruction of the 8,000 year-old Oxleas Wood, a site of special scientific interest; calls for a halt to such plans; and demands a full environmental impact assessment of the proposals in accordance with the European Directive.] That would allow the House to take a decision which might stop this country falling foul of European environmental protection legislation.
The reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is sitting beside me is that we are about to have the second full day's debate on Rio in two or three weeks. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is pushing his luck in asking for further time. I suspect that he may find an opportunity to make his point in the next few hours.
Have any of the right hon. and hon. Friends of the Leader of the House complained to him about the inadequate time given last week to debating the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1992? The debate was dominated by Ministers and Front-Bench Members. Will the Leader of the House find time before the recess to have a general debate on discipline in the armed services in which some of us who signed an early-day motion may be able to broach the subject of the 307 brave British soldiers who were executed in the 1914–18 war and for whom we now seek a posthumous pardon?
I do not think that I can give the undertaking that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but it sounds like another of the subjects for which an opportunity might be found by a little ingenuity on his part within the next fortnight.
Points Of Order
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that, during Prime Minister's Question Time, I had Question No. 5 to the Prime Minister, in which I asked a question about London's homeless. There was a great deal of noise when the Prime Minister replied, so you may not have heard his answer properly. It seemed to me that he got lost somewhere outside London while giving the answer. The question was about London's homeless, but the Prime Minister chose to tell the House about Salford and Manchester. Could you advise me on the best means of getting the Prime Minister to answer a question about the problem of London's homeless? That was my question.
The best advice that I can give the hon. Gentleman is to apply again to put a question to the Prime Minister. Better luck next time.
Should we not thank you, Madam Speaker, for allowing business questions to run their full span?
The only thing that I can say in answer to that is that, if hon. Members co-operate by putting questions briskly, and the Lord President co-operates in answering, I am keen to call Back Benchers at business questions. I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Adoption Of Roads (Compulsory Procedures)
Mr. John Hutton presented a Bill to make provision for the compulsory adoption of certain unadopted roads; to make consequential amendments of the law; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 13 November 1992 and to be printed. [Bill 46.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Kirkhope.]
[ Relevant documents: The Second Report from the Environment Committee, Session 1990–91, Visit by the Committee to Brazil, HC 60, the Third Report from the Environment Committee, Session 1990–91, Climatological and Environmental Effects of Rainforest Destruction, HC 24, and the Government's Reply thereto, Cm. 1579.]
May I inform the House that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate. Therefore, I have had to impose a 10-minute time limit between 7 pm and 9 pm. May I ask those who speak outside that time to show some voluntary restraint in order to be helpful in allowing all those who wish to speak to be called?
Just over three weeks ago I stood at this Dispatch Box on the day the Earth summit in Rio began. At that time I set out to the House in detail our goals for that conference and the work that the United Kingdom Government had been doing to achieve those goals.My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on his return from Rio of the real success that had been achieved. The summit was far more successful than many had thought possible. That was due in no small part to the leading role played by the Government in the preparatory meetings leading up to the conference and in the negotiatons that took place during it. I should like today to set out in some detail not only the achievements of the summit but the way in which we see things moving forward. Rio began an evolutionary process. We are committed to sustaining the momentum of that process. Let us start with the summit itself. Some dismissed it as a failure before it began, but it was the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. The level of commitment was clearly demonstrated by the unprecedented number of signatures on the two major conventions, less than 10 days after they were opened for signing: 153 states and the Economic Community in each case. The personal commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the success of the summit was clear from the outset when he became one of the first world leaders to announce his firm intention to attend. He carried that forward by persuading his G7 colleagues of its importance. His speech at the summit gave a clear international lead on many of the most vital issues before the conference. One of the most important achievements of the conference was the framework convention on climate change. It took 16 months to negotiate and provides a significant first step in the global response to climate change. It commits countries to devise measures to combat climate change and to report on those measures. It also commits all developed countries to take measures aimed at returning emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The convention is a sensible precautionary response to a problem the full extent of which is as yet unknown. Albert Schweitzer said:
Our scientists have foreseen what could happen if we take no action. We are taking action to prevent damage on the scale which some predict. As our knowledge improves—"Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth."
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Perhaps I can develop my argument, then I shall give way.As our knowledge improves we may need to make further commitments. The convention provides for a strong review process to assess the effectiveness of the action being taken and the need for further action. Some people have criticised the convention for being weak, or of having been watered down to suit the United States, but the commitment to take measures is not weak. Nor is the commitment to report on the effect that the measures are having and to monitor progress towards the targets. The convention is strong, and I believe that it will be effective. All the major economic powers are on board. If one is engaged in an evolutionary process, as we are, it is essential to involve as many people as possible in that process. Involving the US Government in the process was crucial. The US contributes nearly a quarter of total world CO2emissions and it is some vindication of involving the US that President Bush, with other world leaders, has called for rapid implementation of the convention. We have joined in that call. We are pressing for early ratification of the convention and we are already taking action to implement it. We have placed in the House Library a document setting out our initial strategy on limiting CO2 emissions, and are urging all developed countries to join us in our commitment to publish full national programmes by the end of next year.
The Minister will be aware that concern still exists about the clarity of the Government's commitment to stabilisation of CO2 emissions by 2000. The convention says, and the Prime Minister said in his statement, that the United Kingdom will make that commitment, provided that others do so as well. We know that the Americans will not treat that as a binding target. What exactly is the Government's position?
The Government's position has been made absolutely clear on many occasions. The hon. Lady seems not to understand that, with what is undoubtedly a global problem of this kind, one needs a global response if it is to be effective. If the United Kingdom Government engaged in unilateral action it would achieve nothing—no more than would have been achieved if the United Kingdom had engaged in the unilateral action on nuclear disarmament so vigorously urged upon us by Opposition Members. The proper way forward is multilateral action—a global response to a global problem.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I am answering the hon. Lady's question. In this case the distinction is academic, because we know that other countries will take similar action.
What about the United States?
The hon. Lady asked a question. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who is to wind up the debate, seems unable to restrain himself from making comments from a sedentary position, and asks about the United States.The United States has committed itself to a comprehensive series of measures which will—of themselves and without taking into account further action that the United States Government and the state governments intend to take—bring them within a whisker of achieving what the convention commits the United States Government to.
The hon. lady is going to reply to my speech. I would give way, but I do not think that it would be fair to the House to turn the debate into a dialogue.At Rio, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced an initiative to ensure that developing countries can share the benefits of environmentally sound technology, through partnership with British companies. Called the technology partnership initiative, it will promote United Kingdom capacity in environmentally friendly technologies, and promote those technologies in overseas markets. It will play an important part in providing developing countries with the technology that they need to play their part in implementing the convention. The main focus of the initiative will be a global technology partnership conference and exhibition of United Kingdom technology early next year. It is not merely very high-tech technologies that will be shared. I have recently had meetings with the Environment Ministers of both India and Pakistan. A major concern for both of them is the provision of clean drinking water. In the United Kingdom we have tremendous expertise in that area, and tremendous experience in making it relevant and appropriate for local circumstances in countries overseas. Our initiative is designed to bring the expertise and the need together. The United Kingdom Government also signed the convention on biological diversity. Before Rio few people know what biological diversity was. The extensive press coverage of the Earth summit has changed all that. The conservation of biodiversity is now widely recognised to be important in both economic and ethical terms. That convention is important not only because of its subject matter, but because of what it attempts to do by way of forging partnership between north and south. It will help the benefits of biological resources to be shared equitably between the countries in which they grow and the countries that develop them. Countries will be required to identify and monitor important species and to set up networks of protected areas to safeguard them. That requirement applies to developed countries as well as to those still developing. It applies to us. It will be harder, of course, for many other countries, particularly those near the equator where the greatest diversity of species occur, and where administrative structures are not as sophisticated as ours. So the convention offers help to such countries to devise national plans which meet their own particular national needs as well as safeguarding the biodiversity of the planet.