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Volume 264: debated on Wednesday 18 October 1995

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Latin America

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

10.4 am

I am most grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for granting this debate on Britain's relations with Latin America. This is the eighth successive annual debate on Latin America and it is the only such debate that this House holds on regions of the world.

The debate brings together members of the all-party British and Latin American parliamentary group. We have here our chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), many colleagues on both sides of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), to stress this morning the importance of the region.

Latin America, stretching from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, contains 8 per cent. of the world's population. It has outstanding potential, abundant natural resources, skilled work forces and few of the extremes of poverty with which we are so familiar in Africa and in Asia. Above all, Latin America has a close cultural identification and rapport with Europe.

I sometimes think that we in this country overlook the considerable weight of the region and its component countries. How often do we remember that the region as a whole economically outweighs Africa, the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia all put together? Furthermore, the individual republics are powerful economies in their own right. How many of us realise that Mexico alone has a greater gross domestic product than those of Sweden, Hong Kong and Nigeria put together?

The economies of the neighbouring republics of Venezuela and Colombia are, together, almost as large as that of South Africa, a country that occupies this House greatly. Chile alone almost equates to either Malaysia or Singapore. Brazil, on the other hand, has an economy equal to that of Spain and its Sao Paulo state alone has a similar GDP to that of Belgium. Not to be outdone, Argentina, with its GDP of $250 billion, is rapidly catching up with Australia. So we are not talking this morning about lightweights or about the backwoods.

Britain has long taken a leading role in this region. In every debate over the past eight years, I have highlighted how, in the House of Commons on 12 December 1826, the then Foreign Secretary, George Canning, referred to Britain's role in the independence struggle in Latin America, declaring that Britain had—I quote from Hansard
"called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old."
It is, therefore, with pleasure that we noted the stress on the transatlantic free trade area in the speech to the Conservative party conference last week by the current Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the similar point made by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the same conference. Indeed, the Prime Minister is the first serving Prime Minister of this country to have visited Latin America. His visits to Colombia and Brazil for the earth summit were very popular. I hope that they will be the first among many visits he makes to this important region.

It gives a perspective to look at our first regional debate on Latin America in 1988, which I also had the honour of opening. At that time, we covered the general agreement on tariffs and trade, British trade, the Falklands crisis and the teaching of the Spanish language in Britain. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) lauded Nicaragua and condemned Chile. How things have moved on! Today, democracy has broken out all over Latin America, with the depressing exception of Cuba. Privatisation and sound finances are the objective and frequently the achievement of so many of the republics. I sometimes think that our debates have become dull, even if most worthy, with the departure of the ideological battles that used so to excite the House when discussing Latin America. Both Chile and Nicaragua are proud democracies with directly elected presidents, and our debates are dominated by economic management, investment, trade and cultural relations.

The affairs of the Falkland Islands remain a concern of particular interest to the House. We have made considerable progress over the 13 years since the south Atlantic conflict—a tragic conflict, and so unnecessary, pitting friend against friend. This country remains committed to the principle of self-determination, and the Falklanders clearly remain committed to self-government under the Crown.

Before 1982 a position leading to a constitutional link with Argentina might have been possible, but as a result of the conflict such a link is impossible, certainly for the present generation of islanders. The Argentines have only themselves to blame, if only for allowing their military rulers to commit such irresponsible folly.

Argentina must understand that our commitment to self-determination precludes any of their ambitions concerning sovereignty. We have no hang-ups over relinquishing sovereignty; our loss of sovereignty over the real estate of Ottawa, Sydney or New Delhi are proof of that. But we stand firm over the legitimate holding of sovereignty and its transfer only in response to democratic will. Any misunderstanding of the view of the House, and in particular the view of those of its Members who are genuine friends of Latin America, would serve only to repeat the tragedy.

Nevertheless, we are admirers of the profound good sense of President Menem in setting the sovereignty dispute to one side and developing the rapidly strengthening bilateral relations. Over the past year alone we have had the presence in the House of both the Foreign Minister, Guido di Tella, and Eduardo Menem, the President of the Senate. Their visits, and the warm reception that they received from colleagues on both sides of the House are a testimony to the excellent relations that are developing.

There are many other examples of the growing relationship between Argentina and Britain. The fourth Argentine-British conference was held in Keble college, Oxford last month, bringing together politicians, business men and journalists not only from Britain and Argentina but from the islands. At such conferences it is moving to see the way in which the wounds inflicted 13 years ago have been overcome, and two great nations are being brought back together.

We must press ahead with the co-operation between Britain and Argentina. That is why I welcome the working agreement on fisheries, and the recent agreement on oil exploration. There are wonderful prospects for co-operation between the islands and Argentina in developing oil production. Clearly Argentina can contribute greatly to, and benefit from, the support infrastructure that the oil business will require. It seems to me that that would be best located on the mainland of Argentina; the challenge for the islanders is to obtain the financial benefits of the oil industry without sacrificing either their outstanding environment or their unique way of life.

In the time available it is not possible to cover the events of the past year in each of the republics. Suffice it to say that considerable progress is being made. Both Brazil and Argentina have made great strides in throttling inflation. That has been accompanied by significant social costs, but the forecast of 5 per cent. growth in Brazil puts the matter into context.

The courage shown by the Government of Colombia in dealing with the scourge of the drug trade is most welcome, and I am delighted by the discreet and effective support given by Her Majesty's Government in that fight. The maturity of the Latin American nations today is best exemplified by the way in which they have helped Peru and Ecuador settle their frontier dispute.

Bolivia's economic and privatisation progress is commendable. We wish Chile success in carrying through peaceful constitutional reforms that will build further on its remarkable economic record. In Peru progress continues to be made with the economy and in the battle against the perennial challenge posed by the Sendero Luminoso, a terrorist movement, and its heirs.

Both Venezuela and Ecuador suffer from instability, and I hope that by next year's debate, if you are kind enough to grant one, Madam Speaker, we shall have seen considerable progress in those two republics.

In recent years much has been said in the House concerning the tragic situations that developed over a long period in central America, and it is probably a blessing that we no longer see that region on our television screens. That seems to suggest that quiet progress is now being made.

Cuba remains, having still to make the great leap into the new Latin American era of proper democratic elections. Nevertheless, progress is being made on the basis of liberalisation and trade, even if the legacy of communist restrictions and controls inhibits faster progress in the island.

The key issue of the year for Latin America holds an uncanny echo of events in Europe. The continent is groping forwards to a new era of trading blocs. Mexico has enveloped itself in the North American Free Trade Agreement, with dramatic consequences. Other nations, notably Chile, are toying with the idea of joining.

Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay have joined together in Mercosur, which is making significant progress. Established as recently as January this year, the organisation covers 200 million people and a GDP of $700 billion. Progressively eliminating internal barriers, it presents remarkable opportunities, especially for British investors and traders.

Last month Mercosur concluded a successful negotiation with the European Union, providing for an agreement that will lead to a free trade treaty. I welcome that, and look forward to ratification at the summit of European Union and Mercosur leaders in Madrid on 15 December.

That raises early echoes, perhaps parallel echoes, of the Foreign Secretary's references to a transatlantic trading community. The most significant aspect of my right hon. and learned Friend's scene-setting both at Chatham house and subsequently at the Conservative party conference was his vision of a close transatlantic free trade area between NAFTA and the EU, in which Britain can play a great part. He will know, of course, that a more accurate and ample vision is that of an association between Europe and all the Americas, covering an area that shares a common cultural and economic heritage. I hope that the debate will do much to stress the fact that not only North America and Europe alone but all the Americas and Europe should be the basis of that new and exciting development in British foreign policy.

We bring to that vision of a transatlantic free trade area a powerful political, economic and cultural inheritance, involving not only the United States but Latin America. Britain can play a vital part in those developments, drawing on our strengths. With the inheritance of George Canning, of the Legion Britanica, which served with Bolivar, of Admiral Cochrane in Brazil and Chile, and of decades of investment in the public services, industry, trade and commerce, we are well placed to play a pivotal role in the developments in transatlantic policies now arising.

Canning house, the outstanding Latin American centre in London, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and it plays a significant role in developing trade, investment and cultural links between Latin America and Britain. London is in so many ways the first port of call for Latin Americans to Europe, and it is vital that those relationships, both commercial and with the city, are developed and strengthened by every means and every assistance that the Government can provide.

Ministerial visits in both directions have increased phenomenally in recent years. I hope that there will be many more such visits, and that President Cardoso of Brazil will make an official visit to Britain next year. I look forward to a year of success and further development of our relations with Latin America, and the House will wish my hon. Friend the Minister of State well in his new role as Minister responsible for Latin America.

Latin America shares with the Pacific rim the prospect of being the focus of the 21st century. I hope that this debate will add impetus to Britain's participation in that great potential.

10.19 am

It is difficult for me to follow the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), as I found little with which I could agree in what he said, and his interpretation of history should be filed under "Sycophantic". The idea that Britain was the mainstay of the Latin American independence movement rather ignores the roles of Simon Bolivar and many other people, and turns history on its head. The hon. Gentleman also failed to mention that while George Canning might have been in favour of independence for the Spanish colonies, he certainly did not exert the same influence when it came to British colonies or British and other European imperialism.

The House may have noticed an early-day motion in my name deploring the fact that General Pinochet visited Britain two weeks ago. Conservative Members might well smile about that, but their party was the mainstay of his regime during his reign of terror in Chile when the British Tory Government were happy to supply him with arms. I want to put on record my disgust, and the disgust of many other people, that such an evil man was allowed to visit this country and be feted and allowed to do business with British companies to buy arms. General Pinochet authorised the murder of the elected president of Chile in 1973 which led to the reign of terror in which thousands of people disappeared. There are many grieving families in Chile still looking for missing relatives who they know are buried in unmarked graves somewhere in that beautiful country.

While I recognise that things have changed in Chile, which now has an elected Government and President, there are still some flaws in the constitution. Pinochet is still the head of the armed services, and he is able to appoint people to the senate and travel freely around the world. Frankly, he should answer for the crimes he committed against the people of Chile and for the human rights abuses which occurred during his period of control in Chile.

We are talking about a continent which is fascinating and extensive, and it is difficult to cover all the matters relating to Latin America in a short debate such as this. In his little tour of Latin America, the hon. Member for Gravesham failed to recognise that the United States has always sought to dominate Latin America through the Monroe doctrine. The hon. Gentleman ignored that completely, and spoke as if the whole continent was some kind of ex-British colony. In fact, the United States has the dominant hand throughout the continent.

In the past two years—particularly since the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico—we have seen the true face of the United States and what it wants to do. The US wants to make Mexico a cheap labour pool for the—[Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Gravesham finds this so funny. On his next free trip to Latin America, the hon. Gentleman should visit some of the shanty towns outside the capital cities in the region, and he will then see what structural adjustment programmes, the IMF and the World bank are doing to the poorest people of the continent.

In Mexico, the NAFTA is forcing down wages, creating a vast amount of unemployment and encouraging cuts in public expenditure, and the lot of the poorest people in Mexico is very serious. The recent rising in Mexico and the role of the Mexican army in attempting to control that uprising are symptoms of the anger that many people feel about the loss of their land and livelihood and about the way in which multinational capital increasingly controls their lives.

While the results of the changes in Haiti have been mixed, one must recognise that the agreements increasingly being reached in the Caribbean basin by the United States and by United States companies are resulting in the most appalling exploitation of people in that region. The hon. Member for Gravesham mentioned Cuba. While he and I would probably diametrically disagree on much of what has happened in Cuba, the hon. Gentleman must recognise that there is a universal free health service in Cuba, unlike any other country in the region. There is a universal free education service in Cuba, unlike any other country in the region. There is more or less full employment, despite the present blockade.

Cuba has been abominably treated by the United States since 1959. First, Cuba suffered several years of military attacks and military blockades, and there has been an economic blockade for more than 30 years. It is amazing that the Cuban economy has survived at all. While the British Government have never endorsed or taken part in the economic blockade of Cuba, I hope that they will at least put pressure on the United States Administration to lift the blockade of Cuba, which is causing incredible suffering. The blockade is making it difficult for the Cubans to restructure their economy to produce more of their own food or to export medicines, as the Cuban health service is the envy of every country in Latin America.

The economic problems facing so many countries in the region—particularly the former British colonies and the others which have gained independence in the past 30 or 40 years—are now serious. I have received a letter from Father Bobby Gilmore, who used to be a priest at the Irish chaplaincy in Islington and has gone to preach and live in Jamaica. He wrote a nice letter, asking me
"to press the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to cancel debt owed them by the poorest and most debt burdened countries … Many severely-indebted countries accept World Bank and IMF structural adjustment loans, because these loans provide the international currency countries need to pay their foreign debts. These practices, in fact, underline the economic health of the borrowing countries by bringing about lower wages, deteriorating educational systems, and reduced medical care … What I am witnessing daily here in the Jamaican countryside is general decline in those areas of life, particularly in education, which put democracy and general human wellbeing at risk. Violence is on the increase threatening the tourist industry and other possible investment."
The letter ended by urging me to do something to "prevent modern slavery" which is what Father Gilmore believes the conditions imposed by the IMF on the poorest countries of the region to be. There are problems throughout the region, and the economic solutions are being increasingly imposed on countries by the IMF and the World bank. Britain is a major participant in these organisations, and we have a voice on the governing bodies of both of them. But I hear few arguments that the structural adjustment programmes being imposed on countries to encourage an export-led solution to their economic problems are resulting in people paying a terrifying price, with the loss of their social structures, high levels of unemployment and low levels of wages.

Recently, I attended a conference on central America, where I heard a fascinating talk by Victor Hugo Tinoco, the international relations secretary of the Sandinista front in Nicaragua which lost the elections towards the end of the Contra war, on the situation in Nicaragua today. I quote from the briefing which accompanied his talk:
"70 per cent. unemployment, crumbling social services, local production destroyed by a flood of cheap foreign imports, lack of credit for small farmers producing for domestic consumption, rising malnutrition and illiteracy and 40 per cent. of the population living in acute poverty."
When the Sandinistas were leading the Government of Nicaragua, health care, education, housing and employment all improved, despite the US-supported war against that Government. One must ask what that war was all about. Was Nicaragua such a threat to the United States? It was no threat whatsoever. There never was a military threat from Nicaragua to the United States, any more than there is a military threat from Cuba.

It is the threat by example that the United States could not cope with, and that is why so much money and effort went into destroying the achievements in that country. What is now happening in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala is that a large number of demobilised soldiers from the national army, or demobilised Contra and other guerillas, are looking for work and an existence, but all that they have are the weapons left at the end of the war. So a number of illicit bands are roaming around those countries, causing mayhem, crime and all the rest—something that will get worse.

We must take the problems there seriously, or there will be a complete breakdown in society as a whole. That can be avoided only if sufficient aid and real support are given for a democratic process, and I do not call the imposition of structural adjustment programmes by the International Monetary Fund any part of the democratic process as I understand it.

There is a similar position in El Salvador, where the United Nations happily was able to negotiate a peace accord and bring about a ceasefire and the development of democratic politics—something that must be seen as wholly welcome. Unless support is given to the agricultural economy of El Salvador, however, people will continue to flood from the countryside to the shanty towns around El Salvador and the other cities and unemployment will continue to grow. All the conditions that led to the civil war in the first place will return with greater vengeance and there will be an even greater collapse in society than there was then.

It is all very well for Conservative Members and, indeed, the United States, to say, "Hang on a minute. We now have quasi-democratic Governments installed in virtually every country in Latin America." The problems of the human rights abuses, which were caused by the destruction of social systems, are very serious.

A Peruvian woman came to my advice surgery last week to ask what could be done about her husband, who had been arrested in Peru. He is not involved in military activity of any sort—either in the Tupac Amarù brigades or the Sendero Luminoso—and totally deplores what they are doing. He was speaking out against unemployment, poverty and so forth and was accused of being a member of Sendero. He was beaten and tortured by the police and is now in prison, in a very serious situation. Because of the way in which martial law effectively operates in much of Peru, his human rights and rights to any decent judicial process are limited, if not virtually non-existent. That is the price that is being paid by ordinary people in countries throughout the region. I do not want to over-generalise as I am talking of the situation in Peru.

While one welcomes any progress towards a genuinely democratic society, to have such a society human rights must be guaranteed for all people. Clearly, they are not. One has to have the right to work, to be educated and to have a decent health service, which is also part of the process. Generally, democracy does not come at the hands of multinational corporations or a visit from the IMF and t0he World bank.

Likewise, the situation in Guatemala is very serious, as I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) will mention later, when he speaks for the Opposition. While there has been a reduction in violence since the height of the war, the armed forces and the police, who were unaccountable during the worst days of the problems, are still unaccountable and abusing human rights. The very perpetrators of all those human rights abuses are still at large and anyone who speaks out against them is liable to receive a bullet in the back of the head on a dark night for daring to do so. That is the reality of the life of ordinary people who do not accept that it is right for so many to live in such appalling poverty.

Latin America is a huge subject and I do not want to detain the House any longer, save to say that these debates are very welcome because they at least give us an opportunity to mention important points about economic relations between western Europe, north America and the peoples of Latin America.

I have one question on Antarctica for the Minister and I would be grateful if he could answer it when he replies to the debate. Has he reached any agreement with the Argentine Government about the siting of the secretariat to carry out the functions of the Antarctic treaty that was negotiated and endorsed by the House a couple of years ago?

10.33 am

I think that I speak for the rest of the House in saying that the contributions of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) would be greatly missed if we were not given the benefit of them because he brings to these debates a consistency and a whiff of nostalgia that are distinctive. He has the consistency of having been wrong in virtually every forecast that he has made in such debates and he brings us a nostalgic whiff of the totally discredited Marxism of the 1960s, which brings happy memories for those of us who used to read what was then called the New Statesman, but have learnt better sense. His other contribution is to remind us that, despite the efforts of the Leader of the Opposition to paint the picture of new Labour, old Labour is alive and well on the Opposition Benches and marching firmly in the wrong ideological direction.

May I return from the world of the hon. Member for Islington, North to the real world, and add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) for yet again—the eighth time—giving the House the opportunity to discuss this subject. Small though the numbers of Members present in such debates are, the debates are significant and have some contribution to make to Britain's relations with Latin America.

Today, I hope that we can awaken a stronger understanding of the opportunities for British business in Latin America. That is the aspect on which I shall dwell in the few minutes available to me. On the whole, the year since our last debate has been a good one for Latin America. Inevitably, there have been ups and downs, as in every other part of the world, on most of which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham touched with his profound knowledge.

As I want to concentrate on the economic aspects, I must highlight the upset in the Mexican economy in January. The important point was how quickly the whole of Latin America recovered from what was undoubtedly a serious shock. That was in significant contrast to what happened in 1982, when a severe setback in the Mexican economy had long-lasting ramifications throughout the region, which has not been the case this time. Recovery is well under way in Mexico and the rest of the region has not been affected to nearly the same extent. There is evident attachment to free-market, liberal economies, with all the pressures that those undoubtedly cause. The medicine is not pleasant. Indeed, it is painful, but the results are beneficial, as everyone in the rest of the world knows, with the exception of a few lost souls, one of whom—the hon. Member for Islington, North—spoke just before me.

This year, there were elections in Argentina and Peru, which demonstrated that those Governments, who are dedicated to such difficult free market economic policies, have democratic support. The political and economic outlook for Latin America is favourable for stability and for commitment to the democratic process throughout the region, although there are various problems. I hope that Cuba will come into line before very long.

The economic outlook is particularly encouraging. I must draw the attention of the House to the World bank study completed earlier this year, which predicted that
the region's economy as a whole could grow at … 6 per cent. a year between 1998 and 2005, provided that governments learn the lessons of the Mexican upheaval."
Let us consider the statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham gave on the economic power that Latin America already possesses, which most people in the rest of the world underestimate. Add to that the growth prospects that the World bank thinks that the region could achieve and one has a challenging and interesting market.

Of course, it is a two-way market. Believers as we are in the benefits of free trade and investment—certainly on the Conservative side of the House—we are talking about a two-way, everyone-wins development and we must concentrate on that. I was particularly glad, therefore, that the United Kingdom Government launched their Link into Latin America campaign at the beginning of the year. Unhappily, it coincided with the problems in Mexico, but I do not think that that has derailed the programme. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister of State will have something to say on that.

The campaign has led to a general and growing awareness in British business of the opportunities in Latin America, which was demonstrated by the large attendance at the conference that the CBI organised on Mercosur on 21 September. I strongly endorse the warm tributes paid to Canning house by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham. The Canning house conference on a free trade area of the Americas on Monday 16 October again demonstrated the efforts that are being made by LATAG, Canning house itself, the Department of Trade and Industry and all the bodies charged with developing our interests in Latin America.

However, we still have more to do and I refer the House to one aspect: the European Union's programme for industrial co-operation with Latin America, Alinvest, voted last month 41 million ecu of European Union funds for a five-year programme of technology transfer, know-how initiatives and strategic alliances between the two regions. As I understand it, there are 170 trade multipliers, as they are called, of which only seven are from the United Kingdom—less than 4 per cent. of the total—while 60 per cent. is in three countries: Spain, France and Italy. Keen as I personally am on taking full advantage of our membership of the European Union, I hope that British exporters, led if necessary again by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office, will take full advantage of the European Union funds which are available to them.

The panorama is extremely encouraging. The latest agreement between Britain and Argentina on Falkland Islands oil exploration is a development greatly to be welcomed. Neither side must be put off by the rhetoric that is occasionally directed towards that difficult issue. We have experience in our recent past of the dangers of rhetoric going too far. We must concentrate on the practical realities and I believe that the oil exploration agreement is a good example of what can be achieved by responsible statesmen working together for the general good. The agreement will further enhance relations between Britain and Argentina, which are remarkably strong and have withstood the inevitable pressures exerted by the Falkland Islands dispute. There will be a further spin-off effect on Britain's standing with the rest of Latin America.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham said, the historical and continuing, deep-seated cultural, family and trade links that we already have mean that there is a great basis on which to build. The message of this debate should go out to Latin America that we in Britain recognise what has been achieved and know that there are problems but that we congratulate those countries on the restoration of democracy, the political stability that is developing throughout the region and the economic progress that is being attained. We look forward to working together, possibly through a free trade area of the sort that is now being discussed. There are difficulties with that, but let us hope that we can make progress on it. We look forward to collaborating with Latin America.

The other message is to our own countrymen, especially those engaged in trade. It is the smaller companies to which we must address ourselves and say that while there are opportunities with the Asian tigers and in eastern Europe, they should not forget the vibrant, positive, encouraging opportunity in Latin America. I hope very much that the Government will take the lead in reinforcing the initiatives they have already undertaken.

10.44 am

I, too, am glad to take part in this debate and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) for the enthusiasm and zest with which he has encouraged good relations with the whole of Latin America and encouraged these debates in the House over the years.

This morning, I want to concentrate on Argentina because I have long family connections with that great country. My family first became involved in Argentina in about 1820. My father was born in Buenos Aires. I had the good fortune to work there for two years in the 1960s. I still have family who live and work happily there. For me, as for my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) who has spent time in the embassy in Argentina, it is a joy that they have come through difficult times and that relations between our two countries are now genuinely warm, constructive and show great promise for the future.

I believe that our now firm relations with Argentina are at a juncture where there is great scope for further growth over many facets of our friendship. That potential exists not only because of our old and enduring links with Argentina but because of the impressive economic promise of that country and its democratic stability.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Argentina is one third the size of the United States—I million square miles. It is a huge country with one of the best agricultural industries in the world, which has great potential. It also has enormous reserves of raw materials which are in the process of being developed and which offer it great promise of prosperity in the future. Added to that, of all countries in Latin America, Argentina has one of the best educated and professional middle classes. It has the structure to make good use of its potential.

Those natural qualities always existed, but they are linked now to the prospect of financial stability with low inflation. We all remember those decades when inflation in Argentina seemed extraordinary to us in Europe. Now inflation is low, running at European levels. There is also the promise of stability guaranteed by democracy. We were all impressed by the recent election in Argentina, when the Government had an austere budget before the election to meet the financial crisis and went on to win a genuine victory. Of course, the future will be tough; it always is. Argentina has to bed down those reforms but we can all recognise the promise and the stability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, that provides great opportunities for British companies.

Many British companies are already investing in Argentina. Lloyds bank is a long-established investor there and British American Tobacco, British Gas, Cadbury Schweppes, Glaxo, Unilever and a host of others are investing in Argentina—not simply trading, but putting money into bricks and mortar and enterprises in that country. In fact, UK investment in Argentina is the highest of any European country. There is scope for much more such investment.

The World Bank estimates that for Argentina alone, the investment needed in all sorts of infrastructure by the year 2000, only five years away, is colossal. For example, it requires investment of over £2 billion in railways, £4 billion in gas, £5 billion in water, over £10 billion in electricity generation and nearly £10 billion in telecommunications. So the list goes on. Those requirements offer huge opportunities for British firms. Although we are taking some of those opportunities, we could do much better. There is scope and hope for Argentine investment in this country. We are the natural gateway for Argentina to get into Europe, and London can provide the banking services and other areas of expertise that Argentina needs if it is to exploit European markets.

Although it has been growing, direct trade—the import and export of goods—has not been so good. It came from a low point after the Falklands war and although figures have been encouraging in recent years, our exports to Argentina are still not as high as those of France and Germany, nor as high as our direct investment in Argentina merits. This country must invest in, and work hard at, that. There is an encouraging amount of activity, including trade missions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), who has just stepped down as Minister for Trade, was a leading light in taking trade missions around the world. He did not neglect South America. Nor did my hon. Friend the Minister's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). They understood the importance of Latin America and helped to create potential here.

I am glad that this country is in the process of creating a British-Argentine chamber of commerce. One already exists in Buenos Aires but we have now created one here to encourage activity and interest in Argentina and to help companies that wish to trade with Argentina. We must continue to work on those links between the United Kingdom and Argentina.

Although we have come some way with trade and investment, we must make the most of that potential. We still have much work to do. I welcome the growing links, not only in trade, business and investment but in all other areas. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), I welcome the fact that the potential now exists to exploit and develop the raw materials around the Falkland Islands. That is good for all three countries involved: the Falkland Islands, the United Kingdom, and Argentina. Once we start to do that, those links will inevitably grow stronger and work better.

The growing affection and practical working between Argentina and the United Kingdom was emphasised last year when a statue was unveiled in Belgrave square to San Martin, the founder of Argentine freedom. That was a great symbolic event which I hope and believe will, over the next few years, set the tone for the enduring links between our two countries, which go back so long and inevitably have such potential.

10.52 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) on once again being one of the major participants in a debate on Latin America. He may be pleased to know that I have followed these debates with interest over the years. He may not know that I have a long-standing interest in the region. However, it has always struck me as perverse to have a debate that covers the whole of that massive area.

I have listened with interest to points made on both sides of the House this morning. While I accept that the euphoric view of the world put forward by Conservative Members is reflected in reality in some areas, it disguises the fact that the major problems in Latin America have been glossed over, except in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). The problem of poverty in the region is enormous and human rights abuse in different parts of Latin America is at horrendous levels and is no better than in previous years. Debt and the way in which structural adjustment programmes have borne down on the poorest people in the region have led to massive human catastrophe. In addition, the problem of drugs—narco-trafficking and narco-terrorism—present challenges not just to that region but to the entire world.

So we should not enter this debate complacently. I recognise that, in such a diverse region, there are areas of great success and I wish to deal with those first. I commend to the House the excellent report, produced in July by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, on trade with Brazil and with Argentina. The report pays considerable attention to the massive power of those markets and points out that Mercosur is well on the way to becoming the fourth most important economic bloc in the world. That is vital for Europe because, if we are to avoid the serious danger of the world breaking up into competing economic blocs. Europe's relations with Mercosur are central to Britain's interests and those of the Latin American countries, particularly the four countries within the Mercosur union.

Brazil is already an economic super-power with a tremendously important economy. Unfortunately, our balance of trade with Brazil is highly unequal. I do not criticise Brazil for that; it is up to British industry and business to get out there and sell itself within that region. Our relations with Argentina are enduring despite history, particularly the Falkland Islands war. Britain is still a major investor in both those countries and British industry, business and employment have a considerable base in those areas. That is part of the success.

Conservative Members talked about political stability in Latin America. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile and other parts of Latin America, there is now a level of political stability that must satisfy all those with an interest in our relations with the area.

Because of the lack of time, I shall now move on to some slightly more contentious issues. I apologise to those with an interest in the areas that form pockets of stability. While those are important to us, it is equally important that we recognise and place on record some of the problems that exist in the region. We must recognise that debt and the structural adjustment programme that brought on the debt crisis have produced massive social consequences in many countries of Latin America.

For example, in Peru 12 million people—some 55 per cent. of the population—live in abject poverty. Nearly 50 per cent. of children under five suffer from malnutrition and the level of human rights abuse is connected with that poverty. Peru's drugs trade places it firmly as the narcotics regime of the world. That is not surprising when we examine the figures that underlie the problem. For 1 hectare of land in Peru devoted to the cultivation of coffee, a farmer would expect to receive $1,300 a year in return; for 1 hectare of land devoted to the cultivation of coca, the same farmer would receive $10,000 in return. British farmers—I say this without ill will to British farmers, who are particularly good at making as case for the best crops and prices here—will understand why farmers in Peru are forced to make the same harsh economic choices. We must recognise the crude economics of the drugs trade in poor countries.

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what he would do about the debt problem?

The world must heed the calls for debts to be restructured or written off. No progress will be made unless we are prepared to recognise that the poorest people in the poorest countries can be relieved of that burden of poverty only by debt write-offs.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Gravesham is aware of the relationship between poverty, debt and drugs trafficking. He must be aware that that has created a problem in this country. If he wants to do something practical about it, he should accept the need to deal with the debts of certain countries. The hon. Gentleman cannot escape the logic of that conclusion.

The lack of proper international co-operation in tackling the drugs industry is also a problem. Narco-terrorism occurs throughout the world, but specifically in Latin America. If our country is not prepared to play a constructive role in combating it, we shall miss an opportunity to do something about a problem that affects our people directly. We must also be prepared to develop crop substitution programmes and offer investment in alternative farming techniques and methods to people in drug-producing areas; otherwise we will miss an opportunity to do something that would also practically benefit our people. I concede to the hon. Member for Gravesham that such practical steps have been taken, but we are not doing enough and no one should pretend otherwise. We have not recognised the scale of the drugs problem that exists in Latin America and in our country.

Certain Caribbean countries are on the narcotics route from Latin America to Europe and the United States. The stability of their societies risks being destroyed by the power of the drug barons.

What would the hon. Gentleman care to say about the banana regime, particularly in relation to the Caribbean islands and the offsetting effect in Latin America'?

The problems of the banana regime reveal some of the worst excesses of believing the mantra that free trade is the solution to all problems. There is no doubt that the United States is exerting considerable pressure to open the market for bananas to Europe. That pressure is being exerted in the interests not of Europe or the banana-growing nations, but of those United States companies which, through their own commercial decisions, have been squeezed out of the European market.

It is not in the interests of Britain nor in the interests of our long-term relationship with Jamaica and the Windward Islands for the banana regime to be ripped up. I hope that the Government accept that Britain's long-term interests have already been set through the type of investments that the Government have made in the banana industry in the Caribbean. It would be gross folly to throw away that investment and to see Europe flooded with bananas imported from central and south American countries that have not cheap labour, but practically slave labour.

I urge the Minister to acknowledge that not only do we have a moral obligation to maintain the current banana regime but that it is in our long-term economic interests to do so. I hope that that answers the question of the hon. Member for Gravesham. If the banana regime collapsed, Jamaica would be plunged into abject poverty and the destabilising effect would be hard to comprehend. Such economic destabilisation has already resulted in human rights violations in large parts of Latin America.

I have a long-term interest in Guatemala. The latest intelligence reports suggest that its human rights record is not measurably better than it was at the height of the war there some years ago. It may be better according to absolute numbers, but that is an odd calculation considering the work of death squads organised by the paramilitaries and the police. In that country, not only political opponents but people from all walks of life disappear. The United Nations' verification mission reported "grave and repeated" human rights violations and blamed "persistent impunity" for the lack of progress in ending those abuses.

I must put on record that the current President of Guatemala has done precious little to rein in the security forces and the army, who are most guilty of persecuting the innocent and the blameless. The world cannot simply sit back and ignore what has happened in that country. We cannot ignore the fact that we are training Guatemalan police. We must be given some account of the function of that training at a time when that police force is not subject to proper control.

We know that Colombia has many problems because of the narcotics trade, but it is also suffering because of the violation of human rights. According to Amnesty International more than 1,000 people have been extrajudicially executed by the armed forces or paramilitary groups. We know that attacks against community leaders and human rights activists are a significant feature of daily life in Colombia. No great steps have been taken to improve human rights there. The country is locked in anarchy; Colombian political leaders have said that the budgets of the drug barons and the drug cartels are so enormous that they threaten to subvert totally that state.

Once again, the links between poverty, human rights abuses, an army out of control and the narcotics trade are overwhelming. The hon. Member for Gravesham may smile at the idea of the army being out of control, but I must remind him that the Colombian army was able to sabotage a change in the law which would have meant that cases involving kidnappings and disappearances at the behest of the army were brought before civil courts. Instead, those cases are still heard before military courts and are therefore not subject to the control of the elected Government of that country.

The existence of a notional democratically elected Government does not offer any guarantee of the basic freedoms and standards that we would expect of those with whom we would like to deal on an equal basis. The hon. Member for Gravesham and other hon. Members have mentioned Cuba. I have just returned from that country. I am not an apologist for the Cuban regime, and I raised the issue of human rights abuses with the Cuban Government. Human rights are indivisible from all other issues whether one is talking about Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala or anywhere else.

One of the great problems from which the Cuban people suffer is the misguided blockade that America continues to impose on that small country. A recent editorial in The Guardian described it as an act of "gross pettiness". That is an appropriate description given that at a time when the United States has eased restrictions on China, Vietnam and North Korea, it still continues its peculiar ideological battle with a tiny island in the Caribbean. I was pleased to note that when the Minister for Science and Technology went to Cuba, he described that blockade as blinkered. He spoke not only for the Government but for people in Britain and Europe.

It is not in the interests of the Europeans or of Latin America that Cuba continues to be isolated. Cuba should be brought back into the family of nations in that region and the family of nations of the world. The United States would do us all a service and a favour by recognising that and removing the blockade.

This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in a debate about Latin America. I said at the beginning that such debates are, by the nature of the region, diverse and wide-ranging. I apologise for the fact that I have missed out far more subjects than I have been able to mention in such a short space of time, but I freely concede that such debates are important. It gives us an opportunity to discuss a region that is vital to the United Kingdom.

I repeat that Britain's self-interest, Europe's self-interest and our role in the world depend heavily on our forging the strongest possible relationships within and between the countries of Latin America. We should be part of the process of supporting their development, and we should take our share of exchange with Mercosur and, more generally, with the whole of that region. It is important for the world; it is important for Britain's narrow self-interest. In those terms, the fact that this debate exists pays tribute to the fact that this is a region that is perhaps as important as any for the future of Britain and of the world.

11.10 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) on introducing the debate and on bringing the subject back before the House. His expertise on Latin America is well known and his knowledge is invaluable. His contribution to the debate took us a long way forward in the discussion of our relationship with Latin American and south American countries.

I welcome what the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said about the importance of our relationship with Latin America and that region. I agree that we should trade heavily with the region, in our own interest and in their interest, and continue a dialogue designed to help them in their development.

Remarkable political and economic changes have occurred in the region. Apart from Cuba, democracy is universal and has been further consolidated in the past few years by a series of peaceful and open elections. In 1995, elections have been held in Argentina and Peru, and next month they will be held in Guatemala.

There has been an economic transformation. The economy has been opened up and inflation has been reduced. Structural changes have been adopted, privatisation programmes pursued and debt re-scheduled. The pace and depth of change may vary from one country to another, but the trend is unmistakable and, in my opinion, irreversible. Latin American economies have grown at a rate second only to the Asian Pacific rim countries, and their import markets have grown substantially.

Everywhere there is evidence of Latin America entering the world stage: Mexico's joining the North American Free Trade Area and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Chile joining the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation and negotiating to join NAFTA; the summit of the Americas, which achieved more concrete results on regional free trade than did the rival APEC summit in Bogor; co-operation on non-proliferation issues; participation in United Nations peacekeeping; aspirations to the UN Security Council; or movement towards closer relations with the EU by Mercosur, Mexico, Chile and Latin America as a whole.

Not all has been plain sailing. The hon. Members for Stretford and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) concentrated heavily on some of the problems that have arisen. In 1995 the Mexican economic crisis occurred, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) said, but there has been rapid recovery. We should all welcome that, as he did. There has also been a dispute between Peru and Ecuador, some problems between Venezuela and Colombia and political uncertainties in Ecuador.

The Mexican crisis and the economic adjustment that it necessitated have been traumatic for the people of Latin America and for the whole world. Argentina was affected when the crisis created liquidity and banking difficulties, and Brazil was hard hit for a while. However, all those countries have acted decisively and I believe that they are now back on the road to economic prosperity and are making progress.

The hon. Member for Stretford mentioned some problems in the region. He emphasised the problem of human rights abuses, and I assure him that the Government are conscious of the need to work with the Governments of all countries concerned to ensure that such abuses are wiped out. There are still far too many instances of such abuses throughout the region. We shall work closely to try to resolve that problem. It is, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, partly the result of the poverty in the region, as is the drugs problem. We are working, as much as we can, to help them on the road to prosperity and to help combat the drugs trade.

The hon. Gentleman appeared to complain about our training some police forces, and especially about some training that we give in Guatemala. However, only by giving proper training and by encouraging police forces to act as responsible police forces should act can we help to prevent the abuses to which he rightly drew our attention.

Despite all those difficulties, the United Kingdom remains confident that Mexico specifically and Latin America as a whole have laid the basis for an increasingly prosperous and stable future and will overcome the problems that we have discussed and any future setbacks.

One lesson that the international community could learn is the need constantly to be vigilant in the surveillance of key economies, even when monitoring a country with an excellent track record of economic reform. I believe that the Mexican crisis took most experts by surprise. We must ensure that we are not taken by surprise again.

Which Mexican crisis is the Minister referring to? Is it the financial crisis or the earlier crisis in the Chiapas region? There is a connection between the terrible poverty in southern Mexico and the uprising and the later agreement that was reached—forced on Mexico by the United States of America.

I was referring to the economic crisis. I believe that that has been resolved. I was in Mexico earlier this year and I discussed the Chiapas problem with the Mexican Government. They are conscious of the difficulties. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that poverty is a significant factor. The Mexican Government are now trying their hardest to resolve those difficulties and to reach a democratic, stable and peaceful solution to the Chiapas difficulty.

The conflict between Peru and Ecuador has obviously caused us substantial concern, not least because both countries are very good friends of ours. Such conflicts are anachronistic and they damage not only the images of Peru and Ecuador but the whole region. We were impressed, however, by the determined effort of the Rio protocol guarantors to achieve a ceasefire and set in train a process leading to a long-term settlement of the dispute. I believe that that is now achieving its ends and that the relationship between those countries is rapidly improving.

The long-standing border disputes between Colombia and Venezuela lead to raised voices from time to time. They were exacerbated earlier this year by a clash between Colombian guerillas and Venezuelan marines, resulting in the loss of some Venezuelan lives. However, both countries, as close partners in the increasingly successful economic group of three—Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela—are working hard to settle those problems diplomatically.

Thankfully, neither the important structural reforms to economies nor the new spirit of regional co-operation has been put at risk by disputes in the region. The transformation is irreversible. Moreover, the changes in Latin America are opening up new opportunities for Britain.

We once enjoyed a predominant economic position in the region, and it is important that we now recover it. There remains a large reservoir of strong good will towards Britain and we must ensure that we tap it to the full.

British assets in the region are considerable. We have diplomatic representation in every country. British academic expertise on Latin America is second to none. The British Government are actively encouraging those positive developments.

In 1992, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the first ever visit by a serving Prime Minister to Latin America. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), visited Latin America three times in the past four years. There is a regular and growing flow of Ministers travelling in both directions.

On the issue of sustained ministerial relations, the Minister will know that the question of the Brazilian Atlantic rain forests was discussed, and indeed it was discussed by the Latin American group with Paolo e Flecha Tarso de Lima and the present ambassador. It concerns economic policy and cocoa prices. I do not expect the Minister, off the top of his head, to give any answer to this, other than an assurance that the specific European concerns in relation to trade, prices and possible consequent damage to the Atlantic rain forests have been taken into account. Indeed, that subject was mentioned by the Prime Minister at Rio.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and for not expecting me to give him an impromptu reply. I shall consider the subject closely. The importance of the rainforest is fully recognised by Her Majesty's Government.

I am glad to be able to announce to the House that, with effect from September 1995, the United Kingdom has acceded to the Organisation of American States as a permanent observer, with our ambassador in Washington, Sir John Kerr, as the United Kingdom representative. The OAS is a unique forum for discussion of hemispheric affairs throughout the Americas. It has been given an important new responsibility by the summit of the Americas, especially in overseeing the consolidation of democracy and good government in that region. Most of our European partners are already observers. We have been applying for some time and the fact that we have now acceded to that organisation is a useful step.

Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned the Falkland and Argentine oil agreement. It is, of course, extremely welcome and marks a step forward in the relationship between our two countries. It is important. It demonstrates the fact that we can set aside our long-standing disputes over the sovereignty of the Falklands and re-establish good relations with Argentina. We hope that we shall be able to use the oil agreement as a catalyst to improve the already excellent bilateral relationship that we enjoy. The non-governmental Argentine-British conference in Oxford in September discussed ways of improving links between the two countries. I think that it was held in my old college, which I take as a good omen, especially in a sporting and cultural context.

Military contact talks to be held in Buenos Aires later this month will discuss a graduated improvement in military relations—part of a step-by-step process that has been in progress for two or three years. We hope to sign a double taxation agreement later in the year.

I should like to concentrate my remarks on the trade that we enjoy with Latin America. As the hon. Member for Stretford recognises, it is of vital interest to this country. The trade is growing at an impressive pace, and increased by 27 per cent. in 1993 and 21 per cent. in 1994 to more than £2 billion. This year, following the Mexican crisis, the increase is lower, at more than 11 per cent., but exports to South America generally are up by a further 20 per cent. Despite that growth of UK exports, our share of the market is disappointingly low—1.7 per cent. compared to our share of world trade which is about 5 per cent.

British investment in the region offers a better picture. After the United States, Britain is the second largest investor. British investment rose by 60 per cent. between 1991 and 1992, to £4.7 billion. But we do not seem to be able to carry that increase over into our export markets, which is a matter of substantial concern to us.

It is for that reason that the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in association with the Confederation of British Industry, have launched the Link into Latin America trade campaign. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister formally launched the campaign at a conference in January at CBI headquarters in the presence of every British ambassador accredited to Latin America. The aim is to make British companies aware of what Latin America is like today rather than the stereotyped image of it which some people seem to hold and which is outdated and inaccurate.

A co-ordinated media strategy has been developed to generate wide coverage of the positive changes that have taken place in Latin America and the increased business opportunities in the region. A programme of conferences, seminars, trade missions and VIP visits to the region have been organised. In the eight months since the campaign was launched, more than 30 events have been attended by more than 1,200 UK companies and representative bodies. For example, a highly successful and well-attended conference was held on 21 September in London to promote opportunities in Mercosur. The conference was opened by my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and a keynote speech was delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Ministers from each of the Mercosur countries were present and spoke at the conference.

Nine export promoters from the private sector have been seconded to the DTI with specific responsibilities for Latin America. A significantly larger programme, supported at trade missions and trade fairs, has been run this year and is in the pipeline for 1996. As Latin American Governments have opened their markets, the Export Credits Guarantee Department has returned to the region. A series of premium rate reductions has been made for markets where competition was particularly acute.

The Foreign Office's network of commercial sections in British embassies in the region stands ready to support the campaign. Trade promotion is one of Britain's fundamental foreign policy aims. Britain's prosperity depends on success in external trade, and the emerging markets of Latin America offer one of the most promising areas for the expansion of that trade. In parallel with the launch of the Link into Latin America campaign, commercial sections throughout the region have been strengthened and new posts have been opened, including ones at Porto Alegre and Curitiba in Brazil, and Monterrey in Mexico.

We have also sought, with success, to increase bilateral co-operation. We have negotiated investment protection and promotion agreements and double taxation conventions—or are in the process of doing so—with the most important markets. Visa abolition, anti-narcotics and air services agreements are other examples of the practical advances in co-operation that have been achieved with Latin America.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, there is a need to focus on medium-sized and smaller companies. In the past, some of the attention has been focused wholly on large companies and what might be described as the great and the good. I believe that the greatest opportunity for expansion lies in attracting our smaller companies to trade in the region. To do so, we need, first, to focus on what is needed in those countries and, secondly, to identify the British companies that can provide it. It is to that end that the Link into Latin America campaign is now directing its attention.

On the more general issue of United Kingdom and European Union aid and trade co-operation with Latin America, our technical co-operation programmes in the region are modest in size—they were £27.3 million in 1995–96—but they are much valued locally. Their size has roughly doubled over the past five years. The scheme focuses on natural resources, the environment and aid to the health and education sectors. We are also strengthening the assistance that we give towards promoting good government. Our aid programmes have been highly praised by many Governments in the region for their effectiveness and value. We also contribute substantially to EC aid in Latin America.

The British Government also strongly support the move towards closer relationships between the European Union and Latin America. Last year the EU agreed a basic document on policy towards the region. In 1994 and 1995, successive European Councils at Corfu, Essen and Paris agreed to develop proposals for deeper relationships with Mercosur, Mexico and Chile.

The EU already has a high-level dialogue with Latin American groupings. The UK values both the EU-Rio group dialogue and the San José dialogue between the EU and central America. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis), attended both the EU-Rio group and the EU-San José ministerial meetings in Paris and Panama last year. I hope, if my diary permits and the party Whips allow me, to attend meetings in Bolivia and Italy next year.

We welcome recent moves to re-assess the San José dialogue in the light of democratisation of the region during the decade that the dialogue has been taking place. We support recommendations that the focus of the dialogue should be widened to cover economic as well as political co-operation. There has been considerable progress in negotiations on political and economic agreement with Mercosur, Mexico and Chile during the Spanish presidency.

We welcome the initialling of the new EU-Mercosur framework agreement in Montevideo on 29 September. The final agreement should be signed in Madrid at the European Council in December. We also support the ultimate objective of agreeing to an inter-regional association agreement, including the progressive and reciprocal liberalisation of trade in accordance with World Trade Organisation rules.

We welcome the decision taken on 10 April by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for a new EU-Mexico agreement that would provide for trade liberalisation and enhanced political dialogue to replace the existing EC-Mexico trade and co-operation agreement of 1991. The scope of the new agreement was set out in an EU-Mexico joint solemn declaration signed on 2 May this year. I hope that we can make early progress to enable approval of a negotiating mandate for talks with Mexicans at the Madrid European Council in December.

We also greatly welcome proposals to strengthen EU relations with Chile to reflect its economic development and political stability. The UK supports the decision of the 17 July Foreign Affairs Council to adopt the most ambitious option for a new bilateral EU-Chile agreement, which will provide enhanced political dialogue and trade liberalisation.

I am afraid I have only one minute left. I had intended to answer the hon. Gentleman's question about Antarctica at the end of my speech, but I shall do so now. We have not yet agreed on the placement of the secretariat for that operation. We are prepared to consider any country that is not in competition with us with regard to our Antarctic rights, but Chile and Argentina do not accept the United Kingdom's claim and, therefore, would not be suitable places to locate the secretariat. However, our views remain open as to where it should go.

I do not think that it is short-sighted. The United Kingdom Government must protect the United Kingdom's interests.

In conclusion, the area is a very important to us. The trading opportunities are magnificent and the whole region is becoming more democratic and prosperous. We must ensure that we take full advantage of any opportunities that may arise.

Drugs Misuse

11.30 am

The fact that the House of Commons has responded to the request by many hon. Members for an Adjournment debate on the issue of drugs misuse shows that the House can respond to a situation that is causing concern in the country. If anyone in Scotland had any doubt about the scale of the drugs misuse epidemic—especially among our young people—events this summer have confirmed the seriousness of the situation. The level of concern in my constituency is unfortunately reflected in the constituencies of many of my colleagues and that concern is unique in my 13 years as an elected representative.

Deaths in the Strathclyde region directly connected to drug abuse will almost certainly reach the horrific figure of 100. The issue of drugs misuse has been pursued by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I do not hesitate to mention my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster). I do not think that anyone would take exception to my mentioning the courage displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), who has had a lasting effect on public perceptions by taking on the violent and criminal men and women who supply the drugs to Scotland's streets.

Concern about drug misuse is expressed not only by politicians, but by a number of responsible Scottish institutions. The Glasgow Evening Times has conducted an extremely effective campaign which enabled the public to report anonymously the names of drug dealers and their areas of operation. It has been sobering and frightening for me to recognise in the newspaper's reports people and locations known to me in my constituency. I think that other hon. Members have had similar experiences.

The Scottish media have expressed concern about the drugs problem and have got behind the campaign to encourage the Scottish Office to do something about it, particularly with regard to Temazepam. The Daily Record, The Herald and The Scotsman have played an honourable role in that campaign. The immensity of the problem has also been recognised by Strathclyde police, who have launched Operation Eagle—an operation against drug dealers the size of which has never been seen before. It is aimed directly at dealers and traffickers who ply their evil trade, spreading misery, disease and despair throughout the towns and cities of Scotland. Operation Eagle was directed particularly at the Strathclyde region and it has been assisted considerably by media and public co-operation in Scotland.

Determining the exact extent of drug misuse and abuse has been difficult in the past, but, despite the lack of precise information, all indicators point to the conclusion that drugs misuse has increased substantially in the past 10 years. Scottish Office statistics suggest that the number of drug misusers nationally includes about 20,000 people who primarily inject illicit or prescribed drugs, although many other people may be involved in poly-drug abuse—the abuse of more than one substance at a time.

It is estimated that between 8,500 and 10,000 intravenous drug abusers frequent the Greater Glasgow area, which encompasses more than merely the city of Glasgow. Of particular concern is the estimate that between 33 per cent. and 40 per cent. of all young persons experiment with cannabis.

As the drugs habit must be financed, there are undoubted links between drugs and the incidence of petty crime—which may be labelled "petty" in the statistics,' but is far from petty to its victims. Drugs misuse has an enormous financial and emotional impact on family and community life and, as I have said, by the end of this year more than 100 people will have died as a result of drugs misuse.

Institutions other than those in Scotland have recognised the scale of the problem. The British Retail Consortium is involved in a project designed to produce a code of practice to assist retailers and staff to recognise signs of abuse and to advise them of the appropriate procedures to adopt when faced with that situation.

Drugs misuse is a widely recognised social issue and the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), has done excellent work in the area. In its report published in May 1994, the Committee found that the increasing drugs problem in Scotland costs almost £1,000 million per year in drug-related crime. I do not think that anyone would suggest that the situation has improved since then. Returning to the youth aspect of the problem, one Glasgow general practitioner told the Select Committee that almost half the children from a secondary school class in his area had injected drugs. That is a frightening statistic and we all have a duty to do something about the problem.

The Scottish Office also produced a report entitled "Drugs in Scotland: Meeting the Challenge", which raised several points. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) has observed acutely, the rhetoric was fine but when it came to allocating money to finance the initiatives there was not as much as was spent in other parts of the country. I am aware that several communities in my area, such as Cambuslang, Rutherglen, Halfway, Toryglen and Castlemilk East, face serious and growing problems with drug abuse.

The local paper The Reformer, which is in a good position to gauge the severity of the situation, is leading the fight against drugs. I am delighted that the local paper has undertaken such a campaign as it shows that it recognises its responsibilities to the community in leading the fight against drug abuse in my constituency. Like all hon. Members, I have my differences with the local paper on occasion, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for the campaign that The Reformer is undertaking, which will prove a direct benefit to my constituents.

Other hon. Members who manage to catch your eye to speak in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will cover many aspects of drug abuse and I am sure that most of them will mention Temazepam—a substance that has become the scourge of Scottish streets. Concern about Temazepam is not new. As early as 1988, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) highlighted the fact that something must be done to tighten the supply of the drug. He was a pioneer in that area.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has highlighted the fact that the use of Temazepam and Temgesics is arguably the greatest danger facing people today, particularly the young. It is particularly bad in our cities, especially the city of Glasgow. Does my hon. Friend agree that banning the prescription of those drugs is only part of the answer? Perhaps an important part of the solution would be to ban the manufacture of such drugs entirely.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments; he has outlined exactly the approach that I believe that my other hon. Friends will take.

I turn now to the Government's position with regard to the problem of drugs misuse. I do not like scoring party political points against the Government as we should all be on the same side when it comes to the problem of drugs misuse. However, my sense of good will is stretched when I consider the Government's activities in the field. I had intended to give the Government the benefit of the doubt in the debate as I understand fully the need for caution in such matters. I gave the Secretary of State for Scotland the benefit of the doubt when he announced recently the tightening of conditions for the possession of Temazepam, despite evidence that leakage from the prescription process has been shown to be not the main source of supply to drug dealers.

Just in the past few weeks police elsewhere in the United Kingdom captured a haul of Temazepam with a street value of millions of pounds. It had been obtained allegedly for export, but was actually destined for the streets of Scotland. Although it is a problem throughout the United Kingdom, one fifth of the supply of Temazepam is distributed in Scotland, which has only 10 per cent. of the population. The Scottish Office should recognise the disproportionate use of Temazepam in Scotland.

The tightening of restrictions by the Secretary of State for Scotland does nothing about the supply of Temazepam. I take no pleasure in saying that his initiative was clearly a cosmetic device to create the impression of doing something in his first few weeks in office.

The scale of supply shows that prescription misuse is not a significant source of supply to the dealers. The main source is organised crime by hardened criminals who do not care about the physical and mental consequences of their evil trade. I am further confirmed in my cynicism about the Government's motives by yesterday's announcement by the Secretary of State for Health banning the prescription of the drug in gel capsule form from 1 January 1996. When that form of Temazepam is used for injection, it can lead to amputations.

Everyone will welcome further steps towards the Government banning the drug, but I have no doubt that the pressure exerted by my colleagues over a considerable time and the fact of today's debate forced the Government to make an announcement yesterday in an attempt to stave off public criticism. It is a sign that the Government are detached from reality when they believe that manoeuvres and devices in the House of Commons are a satisfactory response to a serious problem facing people in Scotland.

It is crazy that the restriction on prescribing Temazepam in gel form which was announced yesterday by the Secretary of State for Health will not be imposed until 1 January 1996. Although a Scottish Office Minister is replying to the debate, the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom are entitled to ask why 1 January 1996 was chosen. Is there some special reason for the delay other than the suspicion that cost is a factor in allowing people to run down stocks? How can a drug be safe on 31 December 1995 and unsafe on 1 January 1996? It is not logical or rational and arouses suspicion that the Government are not seriously interested in the problem and are more concerned with the costs both to themselves and to suppliers and manufacturers than with people's safety.

The Government will bear a heavy responsibility for what happens between now and January. The announcement by the Secretary of State for Health does nothing about the real problem, which is not the prescribing of Temazepam, but the manufacture and supply of the drug which will still find its way on to the streets of Scotland. Why will the Government not ban Temazepam? The medical world is quite clear that there are alternatives and, in the absence of any reply from the Minister, the only logical reasons can be cost or stockpile, but how can they be measured against the misery and death of a whole host of people in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Many people acknowledge that society is changing. The matter was raised by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and there is support for a review of how drugs feature in our changing society. The Government show no sign of realising that we need a strategy with vision and have no grasp of the action required now to protect our young people who are coping with massive youth unemployment and a culture that includes the social use of drugs.

People of my disposition—and probably my generation—find it hard to understand the concept of the social use of drugs. I accept that older generations are not the best judges of younger generations. The problem has also been identified by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Although I am on the conservative side of the debate, we owe it to society to have a clear view of where we are going and give young people proper advice. I am not much given to using dramatic language, but I have no hesitation in condemning the Government for their drift and delay which will lead directly to many deaths in Scotland.

11.44 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) was absolutely right when said that drugs misuse is not a party issue but one that should concern all parties. Everyone should be concerned because it is doing our nation no end of harm and we are not finding the answers that we need. Like my hon. Friend, I would like to concentrate on Temazepam, the drug that has affected my constituency most over the past few years.

It is now some two and half years since I and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) approached the Scottish Office with our misgivings about the use and misuse of the drug in our constituencies. We were first approached by doctors at our local hospital, who were concerned about the increased number of amputations which they said was due directly to the misuse of Temazepam. The jelly form of the drug is melted down and injected straight into the veins of addicts. Unfortunately, the drug resolidifies in the veins and that leads to amputations and severe maiming.

At the time, the Scottish Office issued a directive asking health boards in Scotland to inform general practitioners about the misgivings surrounding the drug and to ask them to be careful about prescribing it. General practitioners responded to that and a voluntary ban on prescribing the capsule form of Temazepam was fairly effective. In the past three years, however, problems have increased, not only in Scotland but in the north-east of England, particularly in the Manchester area, and the misuse of Temazepam still continues.

We decided to find out why so much of the drug was on the streets if GPs in Scotland were not prescribing it. We now understand that, on paper, Britain exports more Temazepam than it manufactures. We found that difficult to understand until we realised that the drug has run out of its patent.

Temazepam is manufactured by some 10 manufacturers in the United Kingdom. Anyone can set up as a pharmaceutical wholesaler, as no particular expertise is required, and obtain export licences for particular drugs from the Department of Trade and Industry. Armed with an export licence for Temazepam, one can buy any quantity of the drug from the manufacturer. However, the system seems to be breaking down and it would appear that such licences are not being policed in the way we had hoped. Will the Minister look at that issue in particular, because the drugs are not leaving the country, but finding their way on to the back streets? They are causing abject misery the length and breadth of the country particularly among young people, although many people who were prescribed them in the first place became addicted to them.

Temazepam is really a sleeping pill, but it is also hypnotic and hallucinogenic. It is used by drug users as a downer after amphetamines have been used as uppers. Those people are addicted to more than one drug, but it is the prescribed drug that kills them. Temazepam is a real killer. It is wrecking lives and families. In Strathclyde alone, many deaths this year have been attributable to it.

During the recess, the new Secretary of State for Scotland has taken some action. Two and a half years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and I asked for the drug to be rescheduled, so that unless someone caught in possession of a large quantity—and I mean a large quantity; I refer not to addicts in possession of two or three capsules, but to dealers in possession of 5,000—had a prescription for that amount, he would be guilty of a criminal offence. Over the summer, Temazepam became a schedule 3 drug, and only yesterday we heard that its prescription in capsule form was to be banned.

I am afraid, however, that that action was too little, too late. It might have had some effect if it had been taken when we asked for it. The banning of the capsule may still have some effect—it may discourage some manufacturers—but I fear that the health service may not now be those manufacturers' biggest customer. Will the Minister examine the position? Who are the biggest customers? Is the industry exporting far more of the drug than is being used in the health service? If all that we suspect to the happening is indeed happening, the continuance of the manufacture of the drug is a serious problem.

The medical profession tells us that there is no longer any real use for Temazepam—that there are many alternatives, and that the banning of the drug would not constitute a loss to the profession. I am not a great believer in bans of any kind, but the further I have gone in investigating this drug, the more convinced I have become that there is no legitimate use for it and no reason for us to retain it. Not only has it caused the misery that I have described; it has led to drug wars in 'my constituency, with drug barons fighting it out on the streets for territories—very lucrative territories. The drug is manufactured at a cost of 3p a capsule, but sells on the streets for between £1.50 and £3 a capsule. It does not take a mathematician to calculate the profit margins.

We must first consider banning the manufacture of the drug in its jelly form before, perhaps, banning it in its entirety. It could be phased out over a period if the Minister considers that a helpful option—although I must tell him that every day for which it is available poses the danger of another death: another family left motherless, or without a much-loved son or daughter. There is no longer any need for the drug in the health service; the only need seems to be that of abusers on the streets.

We are not addressing ourselves to the wider issue of drugs in general. Temazepam is no more than a drop in the ocean of that misery. Other drugs are abused much more widely; Temazepam just happens to be the drug that was abused in my area, and my area just happens to be where the bubble originally burst. The increase in the misuse of drugs over the past few years has given us all cause for concern. We need to take an overall look at the misuse of drugs, perhaps through the establishment of a royal commission, and we must be willing to accept all that such a commission has to say, although some of it may not be palatable to all of us. We must approach the matter with open minds, and ask ourselves what people mean when they talk of "social drugs".

I am of the same generation as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), and I am not sure what is meant by "social drugs", but perhaps we should be big enough to try to understand. We should examine the long-term effects of such drugs: what are they doing to people, and what are they likely to do to them in 10 years? We should have a complete policy on drugs, covering both criminals and addicts. We are not currently addressing the problems of drug addiction. People are suffering great ill health because of their addiction and the absence of help. It is very easy for the young to take to that way of life, and very hard for them to return from it.

I congratulate Strathclyde on playing a particularly important role in controlling the misuse of drugs in Scotland. Strathclyde has been on the ball from day one—far more than any politician. It is on the front line: it knows what is happening on the streets, and is addressing the problem. But it can only deal with one side of the coin—the criminal aspect. It cannot deal with the health issues; only the Government can do that, and they can do it only by appointing a commission to examine the overall problem of the effects of drugs on society and the other crimes to which they lead. There is no doubt that drugs lead to petty and, in some instances, very serious crimes. In my constituency, they range from shoplifting, through petty burglaries and car thefts, to murder.

I ask the Minister to suggest to his colleagues that a commission be established as quickly as possible, so that we all know where we are going and have a clear purpose.

11.56 am

May I broaden the debate slightly? The subject is drug abuse generally, although my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) and for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) have spoken specifically about what is going on in Scotland. Of course I am not unaware of the problems there—who could be, after reading the newspapers?—and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North for taking such a brave stand. We know of the personal problems associated with that stand.

One of the problems with Temazepam is the fact that it is legally available, like other substances that are not banned and can be bought by kids in shops—as well as from dealers who push prescribed drugs. Last week, I visited various universities in the United States, and the subject of drug policies in both that country and the United Kingdom, and attitudes towards those policies, arose continually. As I have made clear, I take a particular stand on the matter; but there is no difference between the enforcement policies of the Government and those of the Opposition. Both parties need to rethink their position, because enforcement is not working, as the examples that we have heard today clearly show.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Temazepam is not legally available except on prescription?

The distinction does not really constitute a difference. We all know that; what is interesting is that cannabis—a soft drug that can relieve pain—is, ludicrously, not available for doctors to prescribe. The whole drug regime is riddled with nonsense. That is why I endorse what my hon. Friends have said: we must take a careful look at this matter and stop our knee-jerk responses. We need to look at it coolly and rationally, and I believe that a royal commission is the best way forward.

Billions of dollars and pounds are being spent on both sides of the Atlantic to try to stop the drug trade, but as a result of all this expenditure, more people are now doing drugs and the drugs that they use are cheaper. That proves that enforcement policy is not working. There is no point in the police and the enforcement agencies announcing that they have captured another large supply of cannabis, heroin, crack or cocaine, and everyone applauding, while the price continues to fall on the streets because more and more drugs are coming in.

The prisons are full of people who are there for drug-related offences. Statistics in the United States—their statistics are accurate because our Home Secretary is not in charge of their prisons—show that 70 per cent. of inmates in federal and state prisons are serving time for drug-related offences of one kind or another. I suspect that if we ever had a proper look at this country's statistics, we would come up with a similar percentage.

As to health, it should be remembered that people taking soft drugs do themselves less damage than those who smoke or drink—yet the latter do not have to buy their products on prescription. Alcohol and nicotine are freely available in the shops, under licensed conditions. Imagine what would happen if any Government tried to ban them—which they should do on health grounds, instead of banning cannabis. If such a ban were attempted, the criminality of today's Glasgow would seem like a vicarage tea party compared with what would happen once the international mafia moved in with supplies.

Next comes the question of the extent to which people should be able to exercise personal choice when it comes to the recreational use of drugs. Legalisation would mean that we could start to do something about quality. One reason why kids take Temazepam and other substances is that they fall into the hands of drug pushers and dealers. There is no quality control or regulation, and neither drug enforcement nor drug education is working. The problem now is that kids have to admit that they are doing something illegal in the first place, which constitutes a disincentive to seek help. With legalisation would come control and regulation and licensing, and much more effective drug education.

I never usually intervene in Scottish debates because I am not someone who wants to end his life rather abruptly, but the fact is that this is a subject that embraces not just Scotland but the whole country. Of course the criminal activity in Glasgow is vicious and nasty, but I can tell my Scottish hon. Friends that similar things go on in the streets of London—in Hackney, Lewisham and my part of the east end murders take place all the time, as do burglaries and street crimes. Most, if not all, of these offences are drug related.

Legalisation could eliminate this criminal activity as well as bringing about some of the other benefits that I have listed. I am in favour of legalisation, or at least decriminalisation. A range of countries in the European Union are liberalising their regimes in respect of drugs, so policy across the Community is inconsistent, and that leads to drug tourism.

I echo what my Scottish hon. Friends have said; I know that they face vicious problems in Scotland and that some awful people are involved, but if we took a cool look at decriminalisation or legalisation and set up a royal commission, there would at least be an end to the knee-jerk responses of which the Government, and some Opposition Members, are guilty. We could then move forward on the basis of knowledge, not prejudice.

12.4 pm

I want to focus on the problems of Temazepam, but I certainly endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has said. This is not a peculiarly Scottish problem; drug abuse is to be found in every major city.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) on securing this debate, which shows his typical determination to represent his constituents. I want to concentrate on the problem as it affects Paisley and the west of Scotland. We have heard this morning from my hon. Friends about the problems associated with Temazepam—or jellies, as they are more commonly known on the street. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), who has been at the forefront of the battle against Temazepam, mentioned that it is used as a downer. A common problem in many of the cities and towns of the United Kingdom is that it is also sometimes mixed with other drugs such as heroin, or with alcohol to form a cocktail for some other effect.

We have also heard of the worrying trend among drug users—either because they cannot get the quantity of Temazepam that they require or because they no longer get a buzz from it—to give up swallowing the jelly capsules and instead to bust them open, heat them up, liquidise them and then inject them into the bloodstream. That is just like injecting a thrombosis—once the stuff gets into the bloodstream it has the effect of clotting the blood, and people have to have limbs amputated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North mentioned the problems experienced in Paisley, Glasgow and elsewhere with territorial battles between drug barons trying to carve out their share of the market. As she said, it is a lucrative market, since the drugs can be manufactured for as little as 3p with a street value of as much as £4—certainly never less than £1. The drug barons know exactly what they are doing. They know that they are trading in human misery and they know the anguish that they are causing to families.

Sometimes hon. Members speak out and tackle these problems head on. When my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North and I did so, she and her family were subjected to death threats and went through very difficult times. Although stands have to be taken, and it is all very well saying that we will not be intimidated and will fight on, it is very worrying when families become involved. Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to Strathclyde police, who have been at the forefront of the battle against drugs and have done a first-class job. They were very supportive of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North and me in difficult circumstances.

The problem of Temazepam is not new. It was raised some years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall). Likewise, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North and I took it up with the Scottish Office some years ago. Although the Secretary of State's action this summer was welcome, it was recommended as long ago as 1993 by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a Government-appointed body. Taking so long to act does the Government no credit; but it would be churlish not to welcome this summer's initiative, which many of us had campaigned for. It is helpful in that it has become a custodial offence to be found in possession of Temazepam without a prescription, and it introduces import and export controls.

It may seem a trifling point, but as my hon. Friends the Members for Rutherglen and for Paisley, North have said, this should not be a matter of party politics: we must all stand together on it. It was therefore disappointing, when the Secretary of State for Scotland came to Paisley to make his announcement, that he did not have the courtesy to inform the local Members of Parliament who had campaigned for these changes. We would certainly have supported his initiative. There was no need to behave in that fashion. It would have been appropriate to involve the newspapers that have campaigned so hard alongside Members of Parliament to have these changes made, particularly the Glasgow Evening Times, the Daily Record and, in my area, the Paisley Daily Express and the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, all of which have made a contribution.

As my hon. Friends have said, the ban on prescribing Temazepam is a very small step forward and is little more than gesture politics, because the basic arithmetic of the situation shows that the amount of Temazepam on our streets cannot possibly come from doctors prescribing it in surgeries. When a doctor prescribes it to a legitimate user, it will be on the basis of one capsule, or jelly, per day. A month's supply is 30 capsules. That is what an abuser uses in one day. No one will convince us that there are 30 old-age pensioners for every drug abuser in Scotland being prescribed Temazepam legitimately. The arithmetic does not add up. When we tabled questions on this subject, we found out that, curiously, Britain exports more Temazepam than it manufactures, because phantom pharmacists, the people who set themselves up as wholesalers of Temazepam, are buying it for export and circulating it on our streets.

I shall make a few points about what more can be done, because we do not want to level criticism at the Government. Like my hon. Friends who have spoken, I favour the total ban of Temazepam, on the grounds that there are alternatives. A total ban would be clear-cut and final. One of the advantages of that would be that one should not be carrying Temazepam. Failing that, let us at least have a total ban on the jelly formulation immediately.

I would like to see the tablets go, too. I believe that if Temazepam must be prescribed—I am not convinced that it needs to be—prescribe it as a solution. The equivalent of one measure of Temazepam could be put into a quarter pint of solution. It would be no hardship for anyone using it legitimately, before they go to bed at night, to drink a quarter pint of liquid, but the drug abuser is not going to drink 10 pints of the stuff to get his buzz. The advantage of prescribing it in a solution would be to make it very difficult to distribute. The drug dealers would have to go around in milk floats. We would know who they were.

I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland and, indeed, the President of the Board of Trade, about a limit on the amount of Temazepam that is manufactured, and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North referred to this. Why does Britain manufacture so much more Temazepam than we need? Why do we not immediately put some limit on it? If the Government insist that there has to be a supply of Temazepam, limit it to what is required legitimately.

Another area that has not been addressed is the gun laws. The amount of crime that is associated with Temazepam has shown that it is far too easy to get hold of firearms. That has to be looked at, too.

As we have discovered in Paisley, another area that needs to be addressed is adequate witness protection, because if one is going to ask people to come forward, one must remember that the people against whom they will have to give evidence are evil. They are evil drug barons making mega profits and will take action against witnesses unless they are properly protected. We know of cases that have been dropped because witnesses have pulled out at the last minute.

We must also address confiscation. If someone is convicted of dealing in drugs, the courts must act and must have the power to ensure that those people cannot come out of gaol to their ill-gotten gains.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. May I also point out that there are others who need protection, in addition to witnesses? I am referring to those people who have the courage to come forward to the police, to inform them of the activities of drug pushers. Sandra and James Coyle in Port Glasgow have been threatened with death because they had the courage, the guts, to come forward in such a way.

I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. Indeed, before I came out this morning, I saw a news bulletin on ITN about a case in London, in which someone had to give up his home and is now living in bed and breakfast accommodation because he gave evidence against someone—not a drug baron—who was prepared to threaten him with murder, and that is in an area where there is a witness protection scheme, so what hope is there in places like Strathclyde, where there is no such scheme?

We must look at the positive side, because Paisley, in particular, but also Glasgow and other areas, have had a lot of bad publicity because of this problem. I am fed up with people approaching me, often in the Lobbies, and telling me what a terrible place Paisley must be. It is still a good town and it still has an awful lot going for it. We must have the support not only to deal with the problems but to get back a positive image, and the best way in which the Government can help to do that is to give our young people hope, so they do not feel the hopelessness that encourages them to get into drugs.

We need action soon, because the longer we take, the more we talk about it in the Chamber and in the newspapers, the more warning the drug barons and the drug industry will have that they need to find alternatives. If we are to stop Temazepam and ensure that there is not an alternative ready to take its place, we need action now.

12.16 pm

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House and, in particular, to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I have come hot foot from the Ukraine and I just could not get back earlier than I did.

I welcome this debate on drugs. We have too few debates in the House on this horrible problem. I do not apologise for intervening in what hitherto has been—from the tenor of conversations that I have heard—largely a Scottish debate, because this is not a problem confined to Scotland; it is a United Kingdom problem, and, indeed, as I found in Kiev, it is also a pan-European problem.

There are special problems in Scotland and there are horrible problems in Edinburgh, which in particular has built up a reputation for having a problem with drugs. I was glad therefore that there was a special Government White Paper on drugs in Scotland, issued broadly at the same time as the Government White Paper on tackling drugs together in the United Kingdom. At the end of the day, I am absolutely convinced that we will not solve the problems of drugs until we have vastly more health education in schools and better education of all of the people who come into contact with young people, not only teachers but parents as well. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) was correct to mention the positive part that the media can play in this.

I shall make three comments. First, on Temazepam, I share the concerns of Opposition members. I believe that there is a very strong argument for banning it, if not completely at least in its jellied form, which makes it the easiest form of drugs to take, particularly when mixed with other drugs. I ask my hon. Friend on the Front Bench for his support on pushing that forward in Scotland and persuading English Ministers to take the same step.

Secondly, Scottish prisons. I am concerned about the introduction of compulsory drugs testing in Scottish prisons unless it is supported by necessary treatment and counselling. This should also be made available to prisoners once they are released. So often, one can encourage young prisoners to come off drugs while in prison serving their sentence, yet as soon as they return to the outside world, they are lured back into the drugs culture, because there just is not the same form and type of advice available to them outside. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about the matter, especially with regard to Scotland. I have not had a response as yet; I am not criticising my right hon. Friend because I wrote very recently. I believe, however, that this is a terribly important point.

I must react to the speech by my personal friend, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who could not resist the temptation to raise the question of legalisation in this drugs debate, as he has done in every previous drugs debate. It is just not correct to say that legalisation is being adopted in other states in Europe. In some countries, there is a lack of inclination or ability to apply the law, but the law has not been changed and the official attitude towards the law has not been changed.

It is a superficially attractive argument that one can reduce the criminality associated with drugs. I fear, however, that although legalisation might reduce criminality in the short term, it would increase health problems and health costs in the short and the long term, and it is not a route that I believe we should take. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West knows, the Council of Europe is at this moment studying the matter. I hope that the Council will conclude, in conjunction with pressures from those, like myself, who take this view, that we should not consider legalisation in this country or in Europe generally.

12.20 pm

I will try to keep my comments as short as possible because this is a debate of such importance and we really need far more time than we have at our disposal today. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) has done us a service in securing this debate and I hope that he will go on to secure further debates because the problem will not evaporate overnight and will be with us for a long time to come.

I congratulate the heroic stand that was taken by the Paisley Members, and I especially congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) who underwent a traumatic experience when those who were making such high profits attempted to bully her. That was understandable but unforgivable. The way in which my hon. Friend stood up to that was a credit to us all.

I admire the courage of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). It takes courage to stand up in today's climate and to say that we ought to look at a problem to which the solution is not simply to weigh in with more police raids, impose stiffer sentences and clap more people in gaol. That does not cure the drugs problem.

The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs carried out an investigation into drugs and we visited America. Our eyes were really opened to the possible extent of the problem in this country. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glasgow is known as the junkie capital of Europe. The Americans know about the difficulties we have in Glasgow, in Strathclyde and throughout Scotland.

I must tell the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) that Edinburgh does not have a very bad reputation for drugs—quite the reverse. The needle exchanges were started in Edinburgh, despite opposition from the Scottish Office. It has been shown clearly that an AIDS epidemic has been prevented. The people of Edinburgh and the Lothians are to be congratulated on being the initial group on this side in the fight against drugs.

When we were in America, we were able to get figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, the Americans at least keep the figures and we were allowed to see them. In 1992, the FBI figures showed that 535,000 people were arrested for the possession, sale or manufacture of marijuana. In six cases, life sentences were imposed; I am talking about the States where life means life. That seems outrageous when one considers that there is no real evidence that marijuana is any more dangerous a substance than tobacco or alcohol.

Among those who enjoyed the whisky tasting last night in the House, there were no signs of great concern about how much whisky was being tasted and whether it would do any harm. Moderation was shown, as always, and an enjoyable evening was had. One can imagine that there would be a revolution in Scotland if we attempted to ban alcohol.

The States gives the prime example of what happens when alcohol is banned. Billions of dollars were made in a short period and the money that was stashed away is the money that backs the drug barons of today. Fortunes were made illegally during Prohibition and the money was then used to finance prostitution in Cuba and drugs throughout the world.

The figures are available in America and I will give some of them because they provide an insight into what happens if all that one does in the drugs war is to argue the case for getting the people involved off the streets and into prison. I understand why the police are, quite rightly, moving in Paisley. They had to attempt to remove the threat in an area that had begun to be run by the drug barons. They were determining who could live in peace and who could not and, in many cases, who would live and who would not. There was a spate of shootings and the position was unacceptable and intolerable.

For those who argue that the way to stop drugs is to spend more time on interdiction—prohibition—and more severe punishment, it is worth while looking at the results in the United States. There are 440,000 prisoners in local gaols and 87,000 in federal prisons. We can add to that 2.7 million people who are on probation and more than half a million on parole. The figures represent the highest proportion of the American population incarcerated in the country's entire history as well as the highest proportion incarcerated in any country in the world. There are many people in gaols in America, which are bursting at the seams. The Americans are building more gaols, yet at the same time, the FBI admits that there is more heroin on the streets of New York now than there was a decade ago. The approach has totally failed.

Even the hard men of the drugs enforcement agency, who apply the law, said to us that much of the money spent on law enforcement last year—$24 million—was wasted and would have been better spent on education of the younger generation to save that generation. I doubt that we can save the present generation and solve their drug problems. At least, however, we must start pouring money into an education system that is understood by everyone to stop the next generation. History has shown that people look for intoxicants and that we cannot simply keep on banning them or clapping people in gaol for using them. We must educate people about the use of drugs. If people then want to pursue that path, that is up to them, but we must try to educate people out of such a path.

I agree with those who say that we should have the courage to have a royal commission. We should say that whatever the findings of that commission—I have a pretty good idea, if a logical group were to look at the case logically, what would emerge—we should take progressive steps. We should take progressive steps irrespective of how much unpopularity is shown towards us as politicians, especially when an election is pending.

12.27 pm

Like my hon. Friends, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) on initiating this much-needed debate on the misuse of drugs. As he said, many hon. Members have campaigned on the problem over a number of years. I recall that in 1981 or 1982, I accused the then Scottish Office Health Minister, Russell Fairgrieve, and the Government of being far too complacent in their attitude to the growing problem of drug misuse in Scotland.

Along with others, in 1988, I campaigned to have Buprenorphine and Temgesic brought within the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to make the supply of or the unauthorised possession of such drugs a criminal offence. The then Home Office Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), seemed to agree with me in a letter he sent to me in September 1988. Sad to say, however, the measure has just not worked in the way that we hoped it might. We have now reached the stage at which there is no alternative. We must ban the manufacture of these drugs now. As my hon. Friends have said, they are not necessary. They serve no useful purpose and there are more beneficial alternatives.

As well as banning those drugs we must impose the severest penalties on anyone who attempts to manufacture them after they are banned. Nothing less will suffice. Either we are serious about the problem or we are not, and if we are not we might as well give up. If we are serious let us take much more positive action than has been taken so far.

In connection with another aspect of the drug issue, I congratulate Councillor Bill Perry, convenor of Strathclyde regional council, on his excellent "Cut the Grass" campaign, which is an attempt to reduce the sale of drugs paraphernalia. It is an affront for shopkeepers and other traders openly to promote the sale of items used to encourage drug use in our communities.

I have here a reply to me from the Minister dated only five days ago. Although it is encouraging and may be a step in the right direction, it is neither clear nor positive enough, and to some extent it passes the buck to chief constables and procurators fiscal.

I suggest to the Minister that there are similarities with the situation involving solvent abuse, which was at its height in the early 1980s—although, sad to say, it is still a problem. At that time many hundreds of shopkeepers, especially small shopkeepers, were making substantial profits by selling glue to children. That problem was tackled with any degree of success only when two or three shopkeepers were successfully prosecuted and put in prison. The rest quickly got the message and either stopped selling glue altogether or made suitable arrangements to sell it in a responsible manner, only to adults who had a legitimate use for it.

If that is what it takes, I suggest that people who persist in selling paraphernalia for using, or rather abusing, drugs should be prosecuted and gaoled. It seems the only way to make them desist from those obnoxious methods. I do not believe that any trader needs to sell such items to earn a living. If that is the only way in which someone is willing to operate he should not be in business, he should be behind bars.

Like those who have spoken before me, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Rutherglen, for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) and for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), all of whom have long-standing commitments, which have sometimes meant personal risk to themselves, to attempt to do something to tackle what is arguably the most serious problem in our communities today.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun about the need for education. In Scotland there is a great need for rehabilitation for the victims of drug abuse. My comments have been largely directed at the need to tackle those who supply or manufacture drugs, or who encourage that evil trade, not at its victims, who have my greatest sympathy. We could do a lot more in the social sense to help those people, but I have no sympathy for those who encourage, promote and profit from dealing in drugs or drug-related materials. They deserve all that is coming to them.

Either the Government are hard on crime or they are soft on it. Today they have shown neither the will nor the capacity to tackle the problem as it should be tackled. We must do our utmost to eliminate the problem of drugs as far as possible from our streets and cities throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom.

12.33 pm

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends on their campaigning on the drugs issue over the years, especially the summer campaign that they have undertaken. I feel that the Government's ban on Temazepam is not unrelated to the political pressure that has been exerted on the subject for months and even years. Many people in Scotland share that view.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, we are focusing on the problem in Scotland today, simply because we feel that it is especially pressing there. A study undertaken in Glasgow by the World Health Organisation in 1993 showed that there were 8,800 drug injectors there, 70 per cent. of whom were males under 25 who had been injecting for seven years. The vast majority of the injectors were unemployed, and 90 per cent. had had nothing more than temporary jobs. Most lived in deprived areas.

There is no doubt about the remarkably strong relationship between drug misuse and neighbourhoods characterised by high unemployment, low income, overcrowding and other problems. Yet there is no Government policy on how to tackle deprivation, and apparently no interest in developing one.

Operation Eagle has been mentioned. My hon. Friends and I laud and congratulate Chief Constable Leslie Sharp and others on that initiative. But we must remember that it is a 90-day campaign run by Strathclyde police. There is no money from the Scottish Office, and because there are not the resources to take it further it will terminate at the end of the 90 days.

One positive measure that the Government could announce this morning would be to pledge assistance to Strathclyde police and other police forces in Scotland with the courage and vision to undertake such initiatives in their local communities. The Minister would certainly receive hearty congratulations from the Opposition if he gave a positive commitment this morning.

The Government's approach to drugs to date has been disparate. They need a total policy. Figures from the Library show that in 1992–93 they spent £42 million trying to tackle drug misuse, but we must ask what impact that money had. The problem is ever increasing and becoming more widespread, so the Government's action can have had little impact. It is incumbent on them to rethink their policies.

A ministerial task force bulletin considered the issue of drugs, making many positive recommendations, but to date the Government have acted on few or none of them. For example, why are crisis intervention centres in Aberdeen and Dundee not established as soon as possible? Residential sites to deal with drug misuse are necessary, yet we have only 60 beds in Scotland for that purpose, while the problem increases day by day. That is inadequate. When will the Government assist local authorities to ensure that there are more residential beds?

We also need drug action teams in every area. The reform of local government provides a good opportunity for the Government to ensure that when the new authorities take over on 1 April, drug action teams are co-ordinated for every area to provide the community-based services required.

The Secretary of State has made many noises about law and order and drugs over the past few months, and he has mentioned mandatory drug testing. I have in my possession a letter from the Medical Research Council bearing out some of what the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) said, and 37 consultants have written to the Secretary of State expressing concern about the consequences of the announcement on 1 September that there will be mandatory drug testing in Scottish prisons.

The consultants are worried because that would compromise the future of the innovative, widely disseminated, successful public health initiatives pioneered to date in the Scottish Prison Service, and would divert scarce resources away from the expansion and evaluation of drugs education and rehabilitation initiatives that are so critical in preventing future outbreaks of blood-borne virus infections in prisons, the effect of which on recidivism should be thoroughly assessed.

The Secretary of State made a glib statement on 1 September. He has not consulted anyone and has failed to understand the problem. As a result, the problem could become worse.

The Minister should take the information from the Medical Research Council and those working in the Prison Service back to the Secretary of State. We have a common goal of ensuring that our prisons are drug free, but the Secretary of State's proposal may not the best way of achieving that.

We cannot forget that the Secretary of State for Scotland was a Home Office Minister when the Whitemoor and Parkhurst escapes took place. I wrote to the Library to ask how many prison escapes took place when the present Secretary of State for Scotland was a Minister at the Home Office. I received a faxed reply this morning, saying
"The Prison Service seems a little sensitive at the moment and I have been passed round several officials so far. The sixth of these has promised to get back to me but I cannot, I am afraid, guarantee when this will be."
Six officials at the Home Office were contacted, yet none has got back with the information.

The Learmont report was published on Monday, and paragraph 3.85 on page 93 states:
"As an example of the Director General's over-commitment to these matters, a full day's interview with the Inquiry was disturbed on a number of occasions because Ministers required his advice. At a lower level, one of the Operational Directors said that the size of the daily press cuttings on the Prison Service was an informal `performance indicator' for the Service, not least because defensive briefings had to be provided for Ministers on every press story."
It is my information that Mr. Lewis was called away three times from the Learmont inquiry on the instructions of the present Secretary of State for Scotland. Can we trust the man who has the law and order and home affairs brief in Scotland when it appears that, for his own naked political purposes, he has been interfering with the work of the Director General of the Prison Service?

I am having a little difficulty in relating this matter to the misuse of drugs.

I shall try to help you on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The present Secretary of State for Scotland was previously a Minister at the Home Office, and he says that law and order is his number one issue. My colleagues' message this morning is that drug misuse in Scotland is an issue for the entire community. I want the present Secretary of State to use the law and order and home affairs brief in Scotland not for his own narrow political purposes but for the entire community. My colleagues have echoed that point this morning.

Drug misuse must be tackled, but the Government do not have a policy on deprivation to assist in that process. I suggest to the Minister that if this issue is left unchallenged there will be widespread and unacceptable consequences. Young people will be corrupted and families alienated—that is happening now—but further fear and disruption will be brought to our communities. Our public health service will be undermined and services will be over-burdened.

If we do not tackle drug misuse coherently in our communities, the consequences will be regrettable to say the least. The Government must recognise that it is a social problem and that it must be addressed at national and local levels. Nothing less than personal, communal and cultural change is required, and we want the Government to play their part in this very important exercise.

12.43 pm

The hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) is to be strongly congratulated on her courage, and it is outrageous that she should have received threats from any source. I endorse the support of the whole House for her principled and courageous stand in warning young people of the dangers of drugs, and she is supported by us all.

A lot of important points have been made in the debate, but I must say to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that we do not see the legalisation of cannabis as a way forward, as we believe that that would be a fundamentally flawed approach. Such legislation would lead to greater misuse and would harm individuals and society. We take this view because cannabis is not a harmless substance. It distorts perceptions and can affect driving, and legislation would send out the wrong signals. The Government have emphatically ruled it out, as did the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

I should point out to the Minister that the Select Committee ruled it out by one vote.

One vote is all that is required in the House of Commons—especially in the present climate—but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The majority on the Select Committee opposed it. The Government are emphatically against legalisation that would lead to the thin end of the wedge and get more youngsters hooked on drugs. We are opposed to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) raised the subject of mandatory drug testing. The Secretary of State announced on 31 August that a programme of mandatory drug tests would be introduced in Scottish prisons under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This is intended to complement the constructive work being done in drug treatment reduction programmes and drug prevention and education work in prisons. Edinburgh and Corton Vale prisons will be the pilot prisons, and the first phase of testing will begin early in 1996. I am glad to confirm that both prisons have in place strong drug treatment and support programmes. Following the pilot phase, random drug testing will be phased in across the prison estate.

The hon. Members for Paisley, North and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) were right to compliment the police on Operation Eagle, and I shall return to the issue of resources. One important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes was that the media have a part to play. At Edinburgh castle the other evening, editors from various Scottish newspapers were addressed by the Secretary of State. He said that whether or not editors disagreed with Government policy, there was one way in which they could be of substantial assistance—by warning young people of the dangers of taking drugs. My right hon. Friend went out of his way to congratulate the Glasgow Evening Times which, he said, had not always been known for its support for the Government. That is very important, and the media have an invaluable role to play in that connection.

Drug misuse is one of the greatest challenges that we face in Scotland today. It blights young lives, worries parents, takes the lives of young people who should be in their prime and leads to drug-related violence and other crime in our cities and towns. It provides the basis for huge profits made by unscrupulous drug dealers whose sole aim is to profit from the misery and despair of others.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) was right to focus on Strathclyde and he reflected the concerns of other hon. Members. I should like to mention briefly some of the actions that the Government are taking. New guidelines have been drawn up on good practice on substitute prescribing. The community drug problem service approach holds out the best prospect of reducing drug deaths by drawing misusers into treatment services. The drug crisis centre in Glasgow, which I visited recently, has performed a valuable and effective role since it was set up, and I wholeheartedly welcome that.

The hon. Member for Paisley, North rightly raised the question of tightening import and export controls. Rescheduling Temazepam tightens security requirements at pharmacies, and also tightens import and export controls by requiring licences. It is now unlawful to possess Temazepam without prescription. We believe that the police can more effectively tackle dealers, and the ban on gel-filled capsules announced yesterday will also help.

Guidelines on good practice at raves and other dance events are nearing completion and will be issued shortly, and two new packages have been issued recently to schools on drug education. Drug prevention education is now incorporated in the health education curriculum. It is vital to get the message across to youngsters at the earliest age.

I must deal with Temazepam and some of the points made in the debate.

The Minister mentioned the need to educate school children. What new proposals has he for giving support and assistance to the families of young drug abusers and misusers? Those families undergo considerable distress because of their youngsters' habits and badly need support.

The hon. Gentleman asks what role the social work department can perform. He is married to a social worker, whom I have met on numerous occasions. Resources of £40 million are being made available throughout the range of programmes. We want a strongly co-ordinated approach, which will deal with the matter. If the hon. Gentleman has any constructive suggestions on the subject, I will be glad to receive them.

May I take an extreme example of drug-related deaths, and I have met parents who have been through these extremely unfortunate circumstances? The procurators fiscal in Glasgow have introduced a procedure of discussing the circumstances surrounding such deaths with close relatives. Common-sense advice is issued directly to injecting drug misusers on how to avoid dangerous situations and practices associated with injecting drug misuse. We believe that the new and improved system of recording drug deaths introduced in June will help but, of course, we are aiming for prevention.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen asked why 1 January had been chosen. I can explain that simply. There is a need for existing prescriptions to be dispensed. The 1 January date also gives general practitioners time to review and to prescribe alternative forms of Temazepam or other drugs.

Let me make clear to the House the extent of the problem with legal prescriptions. The information is available only for England and we must make it available for Scotland as well. Temazepam prescriptions in England decreased from 6.9 million in 1992 to 6.3 million in 1994 and continued to decrease in the first two quarters of 1995. The voluntary bans in Scotland have significantly reduced the level of prescribing and medical prescribing committees on health boards are carrying out a further review. The results will be made public in due course. That gives us an idea of the scale of the problem.

The hon. Members for Paisley, North and for Paisley, South mentioned drugs finding their way on to the streets of Scotland. Import and export licensing, in rescheduling measures, will tighten security and reduce leakage into the criminal fraternity, as will tighter new security measures. I am happy to have a dialogue with the hon. Members. It is my aim as well as theirs to ensure that Paisley, which has a fine history and which I have often visited, can be looked on with confidence for the future for inward investment and other possibilities that may arise.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South asked about illegal supplies. I said that we must deal with bogus exporters, who divert the drug to illicit home markets. The new licensing procedure will deal with that. The hon. Member has written to the President of the Board of Trade about the new controls and I have no doubt that he will receive a comprehensive reply.

I was asked about a total ban on Temazepam. As I said, it is widely prescribed legitimately and has been licensed for many years. There is not the same serious danger with merely taking the tablets as with injecting the drug. I am glad that, since the first note was drafted, the correct information has come in and I can inform hon. Members that in Scotland there are 880,000 prescriptions for Temazepam in all its forms. We believe that banning the drug in gel form will assist.

I was asked about drugs equipment paraphernalia. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) introduced an extremely important Bill on glue sniffing—a related subject. I agree that we must consider that matter closely. Legislation is available to enable us to prosecute traders, but it is sometimes difficult to do so as the articles concerned can ostensibly be valid and legal for other purposes. For example, pipes can be used as an ornament or for smoking non-prohibited substances.

Strathclyde police are being consulted to find out whether they believe that any aspects of existing law should be strengthened. It is for each drug action team to consider whether any further action could be taken to influence traders.

I mentioned resources of £40 million and, of that sum, £10 million was for drug-related activities alone and a further £8 million was for Strathclyde.

Strong sanctions are available against those who misuse drugs. The Criminal Justice Act 1987 empowers the courts to confiscate the funds or property of those convicted of dealing in drugs. The rescheduling of Temazepam will make possession an offence, with a penalty that includes a maximum of two years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. The penalty for supplying is a maximum of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

We have to go flat out against the drug dealers, but at the same time must have a strong educational, health and social work programme in place to deal with the youngsters who are most unfortunately affected and afflicted by this scourge.

The report of the drug task force provided an excellent framework for positive action to tackle drug misuse in Scotland and priority is being given to implementing its recommendations as quickly as possible. Drug action teams have been established and will have a major role in combating drug misuse at local level. The task force drew on many expert talents from the fields of health, education, police, social work, the voluntary sector and other areas, in producing its report last October.

More than 60 recommendations were made and the report was widely recognised as providing a thorough and informed picture of drug misuse in Scotland. We are well ahead in implementing the valuable recommendations, many of which have had a bearing on the points mentioned this morning.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way: as ever, he is generous in these matters. He mentioned the drug task force report. How much are the Government allocating in extra resources to those initiatives?

Resources this year amount to about £40 million. When the annual expenditure round takes place, we shall give top priority to issues affecting law and order, which this one undoubtedly does. We will be looking particularly closely at that problem. As the hon. Member will appreciate, the Secretary of State will make a full statement on the public expenditure survey to Parliament before Christmas.

I was asked whether there should be a royal commission. The difficulty is that such commissions take a very long time and the task force has already dealt comprehensively with the issues. Its recommendations are being implemented fully and quickly.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton asked what we were doing in areas of deprivation. Some £86 million is being made available in urban aid alone to such areas, which are being assisted in a variety of different ways. Drug taking is not restricted to areas of deprivation, although it can and does occur there. We have to take the necessary action.

The task force report recognised that there was no simple answer and that the issue had to be tackled on a number of fronts. The report emphasised the absolute importance of fully co-ordinated action against drug misuse.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) will confirm that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs came to exactly the same conclusion and we intend to act strongly upon it.

The hon. Gentleman says that he is proud. The two studies were simultaneous but they came to the same conclusion and that is why we are right to do everything in our power to implement that conclusion.

This year we made the record sum of nearly £24 million available to health boards to tackle drug misuse and HIV-AIDS. Initial allocations total some £22.5 million, of which almost £10 million is committed to drug-related activities. Our whole aim is to concentrate on prevention and we see education as playing an absolutely key role in that connection, supported, for those unfortunate people who have become addicted, with effective services. We need to target the services and respond to the individual needs of each user.

I recently had the privilege to see the Glasgow drug problem service and I believe that it offers a good and effective combination—

Ramsgate Harbour Access Road

1 pm

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to initiate this Adjournment debate on a subject which is of enormous importance to my constituents, the economy of east Kent, and the transport system of Britain and Europe—the Ramsgate harbour access road. Ramsgate has an agreeable historical reputation of being a cheerful, regency seaside town whose picturesque royal harbour has long been a focal point for mariners, yachtsmen, holidaymakers, fishermen, artists, hoteliers and seaside landladies.

Those benign images are still valid to some extent, but over the past 15 years, the outer harbour of Ramsgate has been transformed by the creation of a major shipping port. Today, port Ramsgate is the third busiest port in Britain after Dover and London and the nation's second largest sea gateway to Europe. Some 6,500 ship and jetfoil berthings take place in Ramsgate annually. Over the past decade, the number of passengers using port Ramsgate each year has increased by almost 200 per cent. to 3.5 million. The number of cars has increased by more than 250 per cent. to 473,000. The number of freight lorries has increased by nearly 240 per cent. to 261,000. The number of coaches has increased by nearly 100 per cent. to 21,000.

To put it more simply, on average over 9,000 passengers and more than 2,000 vehicles, of which over 700 are heavy goods vehicles, pass on average through port Ramsgate every day. In the peak month of August, passenger numbers reached 15,000 per day while motor vehicles averaged 3,200 per day.

This spectacular growth in traffic, which has not been seriously dented by competition from the channel tunnel, is a success story of great magnitude for the port, but it has created a nightmare of great magnitude for the road users and residents of our town. The environmental pressures have become horrendous in terms of noise, congestion and exhaust fumes. I will return later in my speech to the arguments in favour of an access road based on the need to give large numbers of Ramsgate residents a safer and better quality of life, but first I would like to say something about the transportation needs of the port users themselves.

A great seaport such as Ramsgate must give its customers—the exporters, the importers and the travellers who are its economic lifeblood—swift and speedy access to Britain's motorway network. I am pleased, in this context, to pay a genuine tribute to the Department of Transport for having recognised the strategic and economic importance of port Ramsgate and for providing finance for Kent county council to build new roads to accommodate the huge increases in traffic that I have described.

Ten years ago, when the port was just beginning its great surge of growth, the approach roads to Ramsgate from the end of the M2 motorway onwards were so woefully inadequate that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who is going to contribute to this debate, and I regularly used adjectives in the House such as "disgraceful " and "appalling" to describe them.

As a result of such representations from the Members of Parliament for Thanet, the Department of Transport supported a proposal from Kent county council for a road building programme to connect port Ramsgate to the M2 and that programme has been steadily implemented. The Department of Transport has also agreed the designation of this route as part of the trans-European road network.

The first part of the programme was the dualling of the A299 Thanet way from the end of the M2 to Monkton roundabout. This £140 million project has had several of its sections satisfactorily completed and the road is now fast and safe for 10.5 of its 18 miles and the remainder is currently being built.

The second part of the programme is the 4.5 mile stretch of the A253 from Monkton roundabout to the Lord of the Manor roundabout on the outskirts of Ramsgate. This £18 million dualling project is now under construction and will be opened next year. So it can be said that two parts of the three-part programme for proper access roads to port Ramsgate are well under way, mostly either built or under construction and with funding support from the Department of Transport.

However, just as it would make no sense to build a tripod with only two legs, so it would be absurd to build only two of the three vital road links necessary to provide safe and swift access to the port. That is why I am concentrating in this debate on the missing link, the 1.5 mile final stretch of road from the Lord of the Manor roundabout down to the port itself. That is what is known as the Ramsgate harbour access road.

The Ramsgate harbour access road is now at a crucial stage of its progress. Unlike many road building projects, it enjoys a remarkable degree of support from the overwhelming majority of the people of Ramsgate. It is strongly supported by all political parties on Thanet district council. All the leading environmental lobbies accept that it is necessary. After long consultations and much popular pressure led by an energetic organisation known as the Ramsgate action road committee, chaired with great vigour by Mr. Peter Landi, over 3,300 local people wrote in support of the planning application and, earlier, over 12,000 people had signed a petition in favour of the project. Against that background of unusually strong populist and environmentalist backing, all the planning permissions for the road have now been obtained.

The Ramsgate harbour access road has reached a crucial stage. The county council now needs to secure finance for the road and has submitted its transport policy and programme, or TPP, bid to the Department of Transport with the Ramsgate harbour access road as its No. 1 priority for new funding starting in 1996–97.

There is one final administrative hurdle to be cleared which is that there is likely to be a short public inquiry, not into the planning matters—which have been resolved—but into the compulsory purchase orders for the scheme in January. This inquiry is to be held under the auspices of the Department of Transport and I would be grateful for my hon. Friend the Minister's confirmation of the likely date and the anticipated length of the inquiry. I should also be grateful for his help in making sure that the inspector's recommendations, whatever they may be, are delivered as soon as possible.

I especially wish to say how profoundly I sympathise with the residents of 10 homes in Pegwell village, on the outskirts of Ramsgate, whose houses are likely to be the subject of compulsory purchase orders and to express the hope that they will be fairly treated and receive generous compensation.

However, assuming that the public inquiry results in decisions that allow the access road to go ahead, the vital question will then be one of funding. No one knows better than a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury that the pressures on all departmental budgets at this stage of the public spending round are intense, particularly so in what in the PES jargon is known as year 1 of the survey cycle, that is to say 1996–97. However, there are three compelling reasons why my hon. Friend's Department should find space in its annual budget of some £3 billion for the Ramsgate harbour access road, which has an estimated total cost of about £23 million spread over three years.

The first reason is that the European Union has confirmed that money will be available for the road from its European regional development fund under the objective 2 programme. This funding, which is expected to be some £3 million, is in recognition of port Ramsgate's importance as part of the trans-European network and the need to sustain and increase employment in the Thanet area. For the road to receive that money, construction must start before the end of 1996 so that it meets the timescale of the current objective 2 programme. Not to accept the offer would be the financial equivalent of looking a gift horse in the mouth and saying no.

Secondly, for those who operate in the arcane world of profiling departmental annual budgets, I should point out that the year 1 cost to the Department of Transport's budget would be small. All that is needed is to make a symbolic start on the road in 1996 to qualify for the EU funding that I have just mentioned.

Thirdly, I reiterate the point about the financial absurdity of creating a tripartite road scheme and then not building the third and last leg. It makes no sense to have spent the best part of £160 million on the A299 and the A253 to provide better access roads to port Ramsgate, and then to leave the final stretch of the most vital access road of all unbuilt. "Spoiling the ship for a ha'penny worth of tar" is almost the right metaphor here, although I concede that there is a gap between the notional ha'penny and the actual £23 million.

I have concentrated on the issues of transportation and funding because those are national matters that deserve the urgent attention of Ministers and this House. Nevertheless, I conclude with a few words about the local environmental and economic issues because they are of such pivotal importance to my constituents.

Environmentally speaking, the residents who live on or near the juggernaut route to Ramsgate have, in recent years, been dwelling in a veritable Dante's inferno of noise, pollution, disruption and danger. I feel particularly for those who live in the 250 homes along the route, 107 of which are listed buildings. I also feel concern for the pupils in the two schools on the route. They and many others are crying out for the relief which they deserve and which they will get if the Ramsgate harbour access road gets the go-ahead.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister will reply to this debate because he was, with his characteristic courtesy and energy, good enough to come down to Ramsgate in August and to see for himself the problems and potential of the present situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North and I were immensely grateful to him for taking so much trouble on his ministerial visit. With his expertise, and by being such a good listener, he could see only too clearly that the present road to the port has been virtually unchanged for half a century, dating back to the time when cars were few, juggernauts were unknown and the big ship seaport was non-existent.

My hon. Friend the Minister was also well briefed on the economic difficulties of the Thanet area, where unemployment clings stubbornly at around 14 per cent.—the highest in south-east England and the third highest in England and Wales. The port, which already creates 300 direct jobs and probably at least four times that figure in indirect jobs among port-linked enterprises such as hotels, transport companies and exporting or importing businesses, desperately needs the boost that the access road will provide. One influential organisation that recognises those economic imperatives is the East Kent Initiative, which has made the Ramsgate harbour access road its first priority on the grounds of the economic regeneration benefits that it will bring both to Thanet and east Kent as a whole.

For all those reasons, the harbour access road is the most important and positively beneficial project for Ramsgate's future that our town has seen for many years. An early decision to give the green light to a Ramsgate harbour access road for the 21st century will strengthen the port's economic success, increase employment, inspire confidence and alleviate the physical and human problems that so adversely affect the lives of many Ramsgate residents today. I therefore hope that my honourable Friend the Minister and his Secretary of State will do their utmost to give the Ramsgate harbour access road the go-ahead and the funding to go with it as soon as possible. This is a road project which the Government should want to back and should back, because it assists employment, strengthens a major communications link with Europe, takes exemplary care to protect the environment along its route, and has remarkably strong popular support among the people of Ramsgate. I commend it to the Government and to the House.

1.13 pm

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on securing a debate on a subject of such vital local importance. I thank him and the Minister for allowing me briefly to participate.

The Ramsgate harbour approach road is central to the development of the economy of Thanet and will have a direct effect on the standard and quality of life, not only of my right hon. Friend's constituents but of my constituents in North Thanet. I share entirely my right hon. Friend's view of the awfulness of the present road to the highly successful and developing port of Ramsgate and its marinas. Anyone who has witnessed the battle of titans, as juggernaut lorries compete for the right of way on the hairpin bend, can only marvel that traffic is able to reach or leave the harbour at all. The environmental cost in damage to fine old buildings is, as my right hon. Friend said, horrific.

It may not be fashionable or politically correct to support new roads at present, but this is one scheme that will make a significant contribution to improving the environment. It has the support of all parties on the local authority and the county council, and of both Members of Parliament who represent the area. I endorse wholeheartedly the case that my right hon. Friend has so ably made.

On 17 December 1986, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell), then Minister for Public Transport, following a visit to Thanet, wrote to say that in response to our representations, the Thanet way—the main arterial road to the area—was to be dualled. Shortly afterwards, Christopher Chope, who then had ministerial responsibility, also visited Thanet and announced that the next section of the road—from the A299 to the Lord of the Manor—would be included in the dualling programme. My hon. Friend the Minister, who kindly visited Thanet in the summer, now has an opportunity to add what my right hon. Friend so graphically described as the "third leg of the tripod" and to complete that task.

In recognition of our need to be able to compete with our continental neighbours on equal terms, we have won for Thanet development status and European objective 2 status. The new Ramsgate harbour approach road is one of the keys that will help us to realise the advantages that those sources of European and Government support can bring. It will send a clear and unequivocal message to potential investors that we have faith in our development plans for the area.

So I, too, urge my hon. Friend the Minister and his Secretary of State to do their utmost to give the Ramsgate harbour approach road the go-ahead and the funding to go with it in the immediate future.

1.16 pm

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on securing this debate on a subject to which he attaches considerable importance. With his usual assiduity, he has badgered me and my predecessors often and long on the issue of the Ramsgate harbour access road, as has his parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who was kind enough to join me on part of my visit to Thanet in August. It was an enjoyable day and I am grateful to them both for making me feel so welcome. It was extremely useful to me because, while we hear a lot about the economic difficulties of that area, it is also important not to lose sight of its potential. On that hot and sunny August day the Ramsgate seafront was extremely attractive. I was left with the strong impression that, if the regeneration initiatives being pursued in Thanet can take root, Ramsgate's future can be bright. I want to assist in that as far as possible.

I said in August what I have to say now. Both my hon. Friends are experienced parliamentarians and will appreciate that I cannot now answer the burning question of whether the Department will accept a scheme for funding in this year's local transport settlement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expects to announce details of that settlement in the usual way in December this year. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South admitted that he had been Chief Secretary to the Treasury. While one might claim a reputation in other great offices of state before any Minister, especially one in a spending Department, it is appropriate to admit that one has been Chief Secretary to the Treasury—in the case of my right hon. Friend, an extraordinarily distinguished one. At this stage I cannot answer my hon. Friends' questions directly.

I stress that I have listened with interest to what they have said today and, on that basis, I fully understand why there has been strong local support for the new access road. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North said, Thanet plays an important role in the economy of north-east Kent. I am advised that it is responsible for 4.5 per cent. of local employment and it generates £15 million a year for the local economy. The difficulties of access are obvious. They pose problems for the future of the port's business because the current access arrangements are restrictive. Unless we find a way to improve access problems will also be caused for the local environment.

Before I talk in detail about the new approach road I should mention the action that we are already taking to help the local partnerships to regenerate the Thanet economy.

My right hon. Friend was right to point out that Thanet suffers from the highest unemployment rate—14 per cent.—of any travel-to-work area in the south-east. Sadly, my right hon. Friend knows better than I that that has remained the case for a number of years. The way to tackle that unemployment rate is to create more jobs in the area. We are continuing to work with the district and county councils, Kent training and enterprise council, the East Kent Initiative and other local partners to achieve that.

In July 1993, the Government approved development area status for Thanet. That means that grants are available to companies that initiate projects to create or safeguard jobs. In December 1994 agreement was reached with the European Commission on the objective 2 programme for use of European structural funds in Thanet. That agreement is part of a comprehensive programme that aims to develop the area as a prosperous part of the United Kingdom and Europe with a diverse economic base that provides access to employment for all sections of the community.

That programme's priorities are, first, to support industry, encourage inward investment, help local companies to expand, provide suitable sites, support small businesses with advice and training, and encourage the transfer of new technology to Thanet companies. Secondly, the programme is designed to strengthen the international links between Thanet and the rest of Europe, and develop the local tourist industry. Thirdly, it aims to ensure that the right training and guidance is available to provide skilled staff to meet employer needs.

The programme is being administered through a monitoring committee of local partners led by the Government office for the south-east. The committee has already approved grants under the programme totalling £1.5 million. The projects being supported include ones devoted to training, improving tourist attractions and supporting small start-up businesses. I understand that the monitoring committee will meet again next week to review progress over the first year of the programme and the priorities for next year.

To help meet the programme's objective of ensuring suitable sites for business development we have already accepted, as my right hon. and hon. Friend have pointed out, improved dual carriageway access to the Kent international business park. We have accepted that project as being eligible for grant under section 13 of the Industrial Development Act 1982. That grant will complement the proposed investment by the private sector and European funding.

The reasons why areas under-perform economically are complex. In the case of Thanet, however, there is little doubt that a significant factor is poor transport links, which have been a deterrent to investment over the years. We are now working hard to put an end to what has been, in practice, the relative isolation of Thanet in the recent past. As my right hon. Friend has said, we have therefore been the paymasters for Kent's programme of major investment on improvements to the Thanet way between the end of the M2 and the Ramsgate urban area.

The old A299 was a three-lane highway dating from the 1930s and clearly not suitable for modern levels of traffic. We have so far paid £100 million in transport supplementary grant and credit approvals towards the dualling programme. When it is complete Thanet will at last have a high quality connection to the motorway network. It is a necessarily expensive project as my right hon. and hon. Friend have suggested—the total cost is around £130 million. That makes Thanet way one of the biggest local authority road projects that we have supported in the past 10 years—a considerable demonstration of our commitment to Thanet.

As my right hon. Friend said, were the harbour approach road built it would provide a new route for vehicles travelling to port Ramsgate through the Ramsgate urban area. In that way it will provide the eastern section of a strategic route, which stretches from the M2 at Brenley corner to Ramsgate harbour. I recognise that the provision of a new access road to port Ramsgate is an important part of the objective 2 programme. A new road would enable the port to continue to grow and would underpin local economic development. It would also be vital to the improvement of the area.

I understand that the local partners will be discussing a formal application for funding from the European regional development fund under the objective 2 programme when the monitoring committee meets next week.

There is certainly a strong case in transport terms for a new road. Traffic flows to the port have increased significantly since 1983, when the port was expanded and the western ferry terminal became operational. Actual growth rates have outstripped our national road traffic forecast high growth projections over the past 10 years, and have increased the pressure on the existing road network.

The present route into the port is about 3.8 km long and, to say the least, is of varying standard. It has some tortuous sections that my right hon. Friend showed me and some significant gradients that have to be negotiated. I was driven along that road by my right hon. Friend and I must say that the final bend into the docks is particularly difficult. I am not surprised to learn that heavy vehicles in particular are constantly getting into trouble on that bend and disrupting traffic hugely and disproportionately. It was perfectly obvious to me that that would happen, and is probably happening as we speak.

I also know that the route goes through the town's conservation area and runs adjacent to a large number of listed buildings and structures that are of genuine historic importance. Many people suffer from the pollution effects of traffic, in terms of noise and emissions. Sadly, that problem is exacerbated by the fact that the traffic includes an unusually high proportion of heavy goods vehicles, as much as 20 per cent. of the daily flow, which is well above the average that one would normally expect on a major road.

In recent years minor improvements have been carried out on the route to try to improve road maintenance conditions. Pedestrian facilities and turning facilities for local road users have also been improved. While those have been successful in reducing some of the hazards, the basic conflict caused by substantial numbers of HGVs passing through residential areas still remains.

I know that a lot of thought has been given to the design of the new road. Planning permission for an earlier version was turned down because of the unacceptable impact on sensitive environmental sites on the foreshore at Ramsgate. The new scheme has sought to circumvent those difficulties by tunnelling under the Pegwell village conservation area to avoid encroachment on a Ramsar site and site of special scientific interest.

In the coming months the Department of Transport will be involved in the scheme in two ways. First, as my right hon. Friend said, a public inquiry will be held into the statutory orders that are necessary for construction to take place. My right hon. Friend said that that inquiry is planned to start in January, but my current information is that it will begin in February. Given the date that my right hon. Friend suggested, we are certainly on the right course. The Secretary of State will obviously await the report of the inspector and I do not need to remind my right hon. and hon. Friend that the inspector must take his own time. Within the Department we will certainly endeavour not to delay in terms of the decision reached by the Secretary of State about whether to confirm those draft orders.

There will be a bid for financial support. The road would be built by Kent and would require TSG support from the Department. It is the first priority in Kent's submission for new starts in 1996–97 and a bid for funding for the scheme has been included in this year's transport policies programme. Kent is hoping to secure the necessary statutory approvals in time for construction work to start in 1996–97.

The Department has been asked to provide £21.3 million in grant and credit approvals over three years. To put that sum in context, the scheme is more expensive than any of the new schemes that we supported for the first time in last year's settlement. One cannot deny that it is a large scheme. Those costs are to a large extent the result of the environmental constraints which have made tunnelling a necessary part of the project.

I return to where I began. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North will understand that I cannot say now whether funds will be allocated for the scheme in 1996–97. My right hon. Friend will understand that there are always insufficient funds to support the many worthwhile schemes that are proposed, so it will not be easy for us to find resources for the approach road this year.

However, I hope that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend are at least satisfied that we shall certainly take into account the relevant considerations that they have placed before the House today when we make decisions about this year's local transport settlement.

I noted my right hon. Friend's comment that the cost in the first year would be remarkably little. It strikes me, causing me some amusement, that that is precisely the argument that I frequently adduced in arguments with his former Department—and, I may say, on those occasions when he was a Minister there, to no avail. However, he can have confidence that I am an infinitely more sympathetic Minister in those matters than perhaps he was obliged to be in his former role.


1.30 pm

I am grateful that this subject was chosen for debate because it concerns a matter that I have pursued for a considerable time.

Although I say some harsh things, that does not arise out of any hostile feelings that I feel towards Jamaica—far from it. I have the highest regard for the people of Jamaica and for the island. When, in July, I had the privilege of leading the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Jamaica, I was met with nothing but hospitality and good will.

However, the subject that I shall discuss strikes at the heart of human rights. It deals with a matter that is a locus of this country because the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the final court of appeal for Jamaica. Indeed, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has taken action that has ameliorated a position which it is no exaggeration to describe as ghastly.

The present debate is not about the merits or otherwise of capital punishment. I totally and unalterably oppose capital punishment, but although, among other things, I speak about conditions on death row in Jamaica, I do not seek to argue in this place for the repeal of capital punishment legislation in Jamaica, although I would wish that to be repealed.

I was told by a correspondent that, although the most recent execution in Jamaica took place in February 1988, a hangman was advertised for and I am told that a hangman has been appointed. There can be no doubt that the possibility of execution creates feelings of great anxiety among the men on death row. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council made its historic ruling that men should not be held on death row for more than five years was that it said that it was inhuman for men to be kept on death row for so many years—in the case of the two men with whom I have been in correspondence, more than 13 years before they were removed from it, following the Judicial Committee's ruling.

My direct interest in the subject arose from the fact that, some years ago, a man on death row called Lynden Champagnie began to write to me about his plight and that of nearly 300 people on death row. As a result, a further two men wrote to me. I have therefore received correspondence from, and have extremely fat files on, the three men: Lynden Champagnie, Recordo Welsh and Everton Bailey.

When I had the opportunity of visiting Jamaica with the CPA in July, I asked whether I might visit those three men and whether I might visit death row. I made it clear that the CPA was not involved in any way in those visits. Moreover, I arranged the visits after the end of the CPA delegation because I did not think it right that it might be thought that the CPA was being represented by what I did concerning those matters.

I wish to thank our high commissioner, Mr. Derek Milton, who has just left Kingston, for his aid and I congratulate him on the splendid service that he has done for this country in Jamaica over very many years. He was the doyen of the diplomatic corps until he left, earlier this month.

What I have to say is not about the merits or otherwise of capital punishment, and it is not about the protestations of innocence that some of the men with whom I am dealing have made.

We have enough experience in Britain of men convicted of murder who have turned out not to be guilty of murder, and Superintendent Knight, the director of security at the prisons, admitted to me that a wrongful hanging was
"a possibility here in Jamaica."
I shall not argue today about whether those men are guilty. I am speaking about human rights in a democracy, human rights in a parliamentary democracy, human rights in a democracy with an elected Government of a sister party of my own Labour party in the socialist international. If the conditions that I saw in Jamaica existed in a brutal dictatorship such as Iraq or an authoritarian country such as Turkey, I would be horrified, but I would not be surprised. I feel especially strongly about those conditions because they are so incongruous with a democracy ruled by a socialist party.

I therefore made it my business, when in Jamaica at the end of July, to visit three prisons. I visited St. Catherine's—where death row exists and where, as I understand it, the gallows is still present—Tower Street prison and South Camp prison. I visited death row and visited cells in the prisons. I spoke to the men whom I had especially wished to meet, but I also spoke to a great many other men.

I repeat that one of the men, Recordo Welsh, who was detained at the Governor-General's pleasure at the age of 17, has been in prison for more than 19 years. Everton Bailey, who turned 35 this month, has spent more than 13 years in death row and has been in prison for 16 years. Lynden Champagnie has just turned 37 and he was on death row for slightly less than 14 years.

Although those men have served those enormously long periods, Lynden Champagnie will have to serve another 10 years before he can even be considered for parole and Everton Bailey may have to serve another 20 years before he can be considered for parole.

I was accompanied, throughout my visits, by Superintendent Knight, who is the director of security at the prisons. Although he treated me with the utmost courtesy and consideration, his treatment of other people left a great deal to be desired. He humiliated Superintendent Aris, who is in charge of Tower Street prison, by yelling at him in my presence because he was dissatisfied with the way in which we had been received and the absence of an electric fan in his office. He shouted at several men on death row and he tried to browbeat one of the men whom I had come to visit, in my presence.

It seemed to me that, if Superintendent Knight was able to behave in such a manner in my presence, his behaviour when I was not there could not have been better and might have been worse. Indeed, although the conditions that I saw in death row were abominable, I am told by a lady called Rebekah Maxine Wilson, who has been involved with the Jamaican Bar Association and the Jamaica Council for Human Rights, that the conditions were actually improved in preparation for my visit.

I met and spoke to a man called Kevin Williams, who is on death row. He wrote to Rebekah Maxine Wilson to say that the men on death row were made to scrub down the block before I came and that the authorities ensured that certain men would not be seen or heard by me. Kevin Williams has said that he has since been threatened by the wardens, who have informed him that, whatever the outcome of his appeal to the Privy Council, he will not leave the prison alive. One of the reasons I am naming names is that I wish the plight of the individuals to be placed on record so that the authorities in Jamaica are aware that the men are neither neglected nor forgotten and that the House of Commons is concerned about those individuals.

Death row is one of the most abominable places that I have visited in my life. It is surrounded by cages which are newly built and clearly expensive. That money could have been spent on improving conditions on death row and in the prisons rather than hemming in the inmates still further. Death row is surrounded by two high metal fences that are both topped by rolls of concertina wire. Blue-uniformed warders wielding huge clubs guard the area. Conditions are dreadful by any standards.

The men have almost no sanitary facilities inside death row. Their sole sanitary facility is a rectangular well to which they are allowed out for short periods, into which they can empty their night soil pails and in which they can wash their food, laundry and themselves.

Death row is like a huge cage with cages within it. There is hardly any natural light and, when I was there, there was no artificial light. There is a central space on either side of which are cage-like bars, from which the men reached out to me in an effort to attract my attention. The circumstances were like something out of a nightmare.

Each man has one tiny narrow cell. Some of the men have managed to get hold of grubby strips of foam rubber on which they sleep. Other men simply sleep on bits of cardboard on the floors of their cells. The authorities admitted to me that the men are kept in those conditions for 22 out of 24 hours. Theoretically, they have a maximum period of two hours for exercise, but Kevin Williams said that he was not even given 10 minutes for exercise. A man called Milton Montique told me that he had no exercise period, had to wash in a bucket inside his cell and had no eating utensils so that he had to use his fingers to eat whatever food was provided.

Complaints were made to me of attacks by wardens. I was told by several people, both when I was there and in correspondence, about a group of wardens known as the acid squad who carry out attacks on the men. Among the men whom I saw complaints were rife about lack of access to doctors. A man called Gladstone Hall told me that, during his brief ventures into the sunlight, the contrast between the darkness in which he had to spend most of his life and the little bit of light that he was allowed, hurt his eyes. His request to see a doctor had been disregarded. Other prisoners made similar complaints to me about lack of access to doctors. One of them, Everton Morrison, told me that he was in "terrible pain" and had been refused access to a doctor. A man called Kwame Codrington told me that he had not been told what his rights were, if he had any, and that he was denied blankets although it was chilly at night.

The other prisons that I visited would have been dreadful by any standards had I not visited St. Catherine's first, but my experience in St. Catherine's made them seem not quite so bad. Recordo Welsh, who has been in prison since he was 17, lives in unhygienic conditions and has an inadequate diet. He told me that his visitors were sometimes turned away. Although he is not on death row, he is confined to his cell from 4 pm until 8.30 am the next day. His cell contains a stool which is about the right size for a kindergarten infant, bits of foam rubber and a tattered floor blanket. Of course, his cell, like all the others, has no doors, but bars.

South Camp prison, where the other two men whom I have visited are now held, was described by Superintendent Knight as
"the most modern in the Caribbean."
If that is so, I am sorry for the Caribbean. The cells are roughly 2 yd by 3 yd. Four men are kept in each cell, which contains battered and stained wooden bunks. In Lynden Champagnie's cell there was a tattered blanket on the floor. There are no lights in the cell and any reading has to be done by outside light.

I am horrified to have to speak like this about prison conditions in a friendly country which one has held in great regard and which one wishes to continue to hold in great regard. But I do not regard it as a service to our relations with Jamaica to do other than make it clear what the conditions are in the prisons. These are not only my subjective views. In a report in 1992, Christopher Gibbard, who was governor of Shepton Mallet prison and is now, pro tem, prison reform co-ordinator in this country's Caribbean dependent territories, described St. Catherine's, where men are held on death row, as
"the worst prison I have ever seen."
He compiled an update to his report last November and stated in that official report that the prison estate in Jamaica was "clearly appalling".

I have been in touch with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. I have been exploring every avenue, both to alleviate the situation and to try to gain the release of the men who have spent more than half their lives in prison. In July 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said that the treatment of Lynden Champagnie and others was a
"violation … of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
During the past few days, I have received further letters from the United Nations in Geneva, which maintains its views about the situation in Jamaica but is unfortunately unable to enforce them. Unfortunately, the Jamaican authorities are not responding to what the United Nations says.

It gives me no pleasure to say this and I am sorry to have to do so, but the Jamaican authorities are clearly not open to being shamed on this issue. If they were, they would not have allowed me into the prisons. On the wall of the superintendent's office in South Camp hangs a notice which states that the prison's mission is to ensure security, foster rehabilitation and serve all who are in its care while maintaining a united and highly motivated staff, characterised by integrity, commitment and professionalism. Every world of that is false. The men are not being rehabilitated but brutalised. The staff, who are kept in poor conditions and appallingly badly paid, are brutalised. There are too many reports of staff inflicting brutality on the inmates for those reports to be ignored.

I am aware of poverty in Jamaica and the other countries in the Caribbean and I want that poverty to be alleviated, but it seems that the Jamaican Government will respond only to economic pressure. That is why I recommend that, while the Government are staunch in their support for the West Indian banana regime which is under threat within the European Union, they should use their support of that regime to put pressure on Jamaica to improve conditions, release those men and to abolish death row once and for all.

1.49 pm

First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on his success in being called to speak in an Adjournment debate so soon after the recess.

United Kingdom-Jamaican relations are excellent and there are frequent exchanges at all levels. Her Majesty the Queen visited Jamaica in 1994 as part of her Caribbean tour. The Jamaican Prime Minister, the right hon. P. J. Patterson, visited the United Kingdom in 1993 and my hon. Friend the Minister for Science and Technology has made two export-related visits to Jamaica, most recently last September.

Other visits this year have included those by members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in June and members of the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association who went there in July, ably led by the right hon. Member for Gorton. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer attended the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' meeting in Kingston earlier this month, and throughout the summer there have been a number of official and private visits to the United Kingdom by senior Jamaican figures, including the Minister of National Security and Justice and the Commissioner of Police. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the former high commissioner, Derek Milton, who has done some excellent work, and also the Jamaican high commissioner to Britain, Derick Heaven. They have furthered the existing excellent relationship between the two countries.

The right hon. Gentleman was very specific about prisons in Jamaica. I would like to respond equally specifically by emphasising the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to the improvement of human rights throughout the world, especially in the Commonwealth. Jamaica is an independent and important member of the Commonwealth and next month my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland, New Zealand. One of the specific purposes of that meeting will be to carry forward the work on good government and human rights in the Commonwealth. Her Majesty's Government have been one of the prime movers in that field.

Although non-intervention in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of other states is a recognised principle of international law, articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations charter set out the obligation for all members of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights. That obligation, reinforced over the years by the creation of a framework for international promotion and discussion of human rights law, means that human rights violations are no longer insulated from external criticism or expressions of concern on the ground that the matter is exclusively a domestic one.

As to Jamaica, the House may like to know that our high commission in Kingston has long been monitoring the situation regarding human rights in that country, including the specific issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman. On many occasions, our high commissioner has discussed the matters with members of the Jamaican Government and other persons responsible for the situation on the ground.

At his suggestion, we recently invited the Jamaican Minister responsible, the hon. K. D. Knight, to visit the United Kingdom. He was here for four days at the end of last month, during which time he had wide-ranging discussions about how the United Kingdom could assist. Mr. Knight's programme included a visit to Her Majesty's prison, Downview and several of its unique aspects were of great interest to him. The British Government have donated tools and materials for a vocational training unit to assist with a prisoner rehabilitation project, and they have helped with the running costs of the Jamaica Human Rights Council.

Moreover, my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General visited Jamaica in April and met with the Minister of National Security and Justice, the Attorney-General, judges, police and prison officials. Like the right hon. Gentleman, he also visited the Tower Street correctional centre. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, who recently conducted a wide-ranging tour of the Commonwealth Caribbean, had in-depth talks about good government issues when he visited Jamaica in August.

The purpose of his tour was to encourage Governments, both in the independent Caribbean and in the remaining British dependent territories, to consider ways of improving the administration of justice and generally to promote good government—the rule of law, honest and efficient public administration, accountability and respect for human rights.

Most countries in the Caribbean are proud of their British heritage in those fields and, in that connection, we have been giving more attention recently to ways in which we can help. It must be remembered that a relatively large proportion of law-abiding citizens in Jamaica has to put up with very poor conditions, such as the lack of running water, the lack of electricity, an inadequate urban infrastructure and squalid overcrowded accommodation which is often flooded in heavy rain. One can understand that the Jamaican Government might wish to give those areas a higher priority than improvements in prison conditions for convicted criminals.

One of the Caribbean's major problems is drug trafficking and money laundering. In this country we are well aware of the dangers of drug abuse and the threat to security posed by drug trafficking. Right hon. and hon. Members may have seen the television programme "The Yardies", which was broadcast last year. It gave a very disturbing picture of the situation in Kingston and the international ramifications of the drug trade involving people from Kingston. That visual picture put the question into context rather convincingly.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be discussing the problem of drugs in the Caribbean, both generally and specifically, with his colleagues at CHOGM. We believe that more must be done to tackle the problem of the Caribbean as a major transhipment point for drugs not only to America but to Europe. That must be done through international co-operation, and we are raising the matter with our European, American and Canadian partners at this very moment with a view to holding a workshop that would provide a framework for further action.

I mention that point because another extremely important matter is the need to provide a way of life that would make it not so tempting to traffic in drugs. That means assisting economic and social development. One of the issues that affects Jamaica, which is a major producer of bananas and other agricultural exports, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is the maintenance of the European Union-African, Caribbean and Pacific banana regime. That regime is governed by the fourth Lomé convention. No Government have been more supportive of the regime than the United Kingdom, as the right hon. Gentleman readily accepted. We have also provided technical co-operation for the Jamaican banana industry to enable it to improve quality standards.

The right hon. Gentleman has proposed that we should withdraw our support for Jamaica under Lomé. However, apart from the fact that we cannot simply isolate one country in that way without affecting the entire structure, we believe that such action would ultimately exacerbate the very problem that it was designed to resolve. It would lead to the collapse of the banana industry, depriving small farmers of their livelihood and the ensuing economic collapse in those regions could thus render them more prone to crime, create more criminals and place yet more strain on the prison system.

I understand that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), a close neighbour of the right hon. Member for Gorton, referred to the banana regime in this morning's debate about Latin America. He took the diametrically opposing view and said that the removal of the regime from the Caribbean states would have disastrous implications for the area. I refer right hon. and hon. Members to the debate this morning.

I am not saying that the right hon. Gentleman would like to see the bad side of everything—I know him far too well to claim that. However, perhaps he does not give enough credit to what the Jamaicans and this Government are doing to encourage the good side.

The judicial system in Jamaica is based on our own. Jamaica remains part of the Queen's realm and it has maintained the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Jamaicans are now considering whether to continue with that system. That is a matter for Jamaica, as an independent country, to decide. It is not our place to dictate to it what it should do, as I suspect some hon. Members might like us to do.

We are investigating, with the Commonwealth Secretariat and others, what initiatives we could join to help to modernise the administration of justice in Jamaica and in the Caribbean generally. We are actively pursuing a proposal that a member of the Judicial Committee should visit the Caribbean in the near future. We have now posted a legal adviser from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Caribbean to assist in the reform and improvement process, to which we are committed.

I have noted carefully everything that the right hon. Gentleman said, but I can assure him that Her Majesty's Government will continue to pursue in future, as we have in the past, a policy of encouraging respect for human rights in the Commonwealth and specifically in the Caribbean.

We shall continue to monitor the conditions in Jamaican prisons, especially the problems of death row, as seen against the judicial procedures which apply and the social economic conditions which prevail. Our high commission in Kingston has done good work and one of its major objectives will remain to support and encourage the Jamaican authorities to address exactly the problems which the right hon. Gentleman raised.

Schools (Buckinghamshire)

2 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an issue of great concern to parents, head teachers and governors in my constituency and throughout the county. I am pleased to see my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) and for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) in their places today. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who has been following the issues very closely, has expressed great regret that she is unable to be in her place because of a prior engagement to which she had been committed for some time.

I should like to outline the nature of the concerns and to seek a thorough and detailed response from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools.

It is perhaps necessary to say a few words about how the present system operates within the county of Buckinghamshire. For primary school pupils other than those who attend combined schools, the age of transfer from first to middle schools takes place at 8-plus. The transfer from middle or combined schools to secondary schools takes place at 12-plus. In the county outside Milton Keynes, a selective system of secondary education system is still in operation. Children attend either a grammar school or upper school depending upon the results of a 12-plus test. That in turn means that the reserved areas for individual secondary schools overlap. The reserved areas for individual upper schools tend to be discrete, but in some cases the reserved areas for grammar schools overlap and some upper school reserved areas are divided between reserved areas for different grammar schools.

I should briefly mention two other points. First, as my hon. Friend the Minister will know, Buckinghamshire schools produce good results, comparable with the best anywhere else in England. I pay tribute to the LEA and particularly to head teachers, their staff and governing bodies for that tradition of success in Buckinghamshire.

Secondly, Buckinghamshire LEA is a prudent spender. Every organisation is imperfect, but there is precious little fat to be cut in Buckinghamshire compared with less well-managed education authorities. I know that heads of governors have had at times some difficulties in the current year dealing with what was admittedly a tight spending round and welcomed assurances from my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment that education will be at the top of the Government's priorities for the 1996–97 financial year. In that context, it is important to stress that the fears about the possibility of a wholesale change to the age of transfer within the county derive in large part from apprehension about the financial implications of such a step.

The issue dates from 9 June 1995, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State approved proposals that Buckinghamshire LEA firmly believes have serious implications for all schools in the county. My right hon. Friend approved two changes. First, she approved a change in the ages of transfer in Slough schools which form part of Berkshire local education authority. Those changes had been sought by Berkshire and included a change from 8-plus to 7-plus in the age of transfer from first to middle schools and from 12-plus to 11-plus in the age of transfer from primary to secondary schools. Those changes are due to take effect from December 1996.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend announced that she was planning to agree to a change sought by the governors of Beaconsfield high school, a grant-maintained girls' grammar school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. In that case the governors were seeking a change from 12-plus to 11-plus in the age of admission and the Secretary of State decided that that change should come into effect from December 1997.

The Department for Education and Employment wrote that same day—9 June—to the chairman of governors of Beaconsfield high school. The content of that letter demonstrates the Department's awareness of the potentially grave difficulties that the decision might cause to schools elsewhere in the county. The letter said that the Secretary of State had reached her decision
"after careful consideration of the arguments put forward by Buckinghamshire LEA and by other objectors to the governors' proposal. It is the view of Bucks LEA that approval of the proposal to change the age range at Beaconsfield High School would make it inevitable that they would have to change the age range of their own schools. Such a move would have capital implications requiring careful examination. In addition, the approval of the governors' proposal may affect the LEA's ability to meet its responsibilities under the Sex Discrimination Act 1976. The proposed modification to the implementation date of the governors' proposal thus aims to provide Buckinghamshire LEA with sufficient time to give proper consideration to the issues arising from the proposal's approval."
That letter reveals an awareness that the decision would cause difficulties elsewhere in Buckinghamshire and that the Department expected that Buckinghamshire LEA would have to consider seriously changes to the age of transfer in county schools.

The effect of the Secretary of State's decision can be described in three ways. First, from 1997, year 7 in primary schools in the reserved areas of Beaconsfield high school will consist of boys of all abilities together with less able girls who have not been able to obtain a grammar school place. The more able girls would have gone on to Beaconsfield high school.

Secondly, according to counsel's opinion obtained by Buckinghamshire county council, the LEA and the Funding Agency for Schools would be in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 for failing to make the same opportunities available for 11-plus boys as for 11-plus girls in south Buckinghamshire. Clearly, that principle would apply elsewhere in the country if further changes were approved to the age of transfer in respect of other individual schools.

Thirdly, the county fears there will be a domino effect and that parents and governors will add to the pressure for other secondary schools to follow the example of Beaconsfield high school. There have already been indications from grant-maintained schools in Marlow in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe and in Chalfont that schools are intending to follow the example set in Beaconsfield.

The overlapping nature of school reserved areas means that it is difficult for the LEA to isolate change in south Buckinghamshire from change in the rest of the county. The reserved area for Wycombe boys' grammar schools stretches across large parts of south Buckinghamshire. Pupils from the town of Princes Risborough in my constituency have reserved places in the Aylesbury grammar schools and Princes Risborough's own upper school, but some pupils from villages just outside Princes Risborough who are in the Princes Risborough upper school area come into the reserved area in respect of grammar schools located in High Wycombe. Pupils from the Great Missenden area in my constituency have reserved places at the Aylesbury grammar schools and also at some grammar schools in the Chiltern and south Buckinghamshire educational division of the county. I should have said earlier that I am the only Buckinghamshire Member whose constituency includes parts of three areas within Buckinghamshire's local education authority. I have followed the arguments closely.

Strong pressure is being exerted from many quarters for the whole county to seek a planned switch in the ages of transfer from 12-plus to 11-plus, and correspondingly from 8-plus to 7-plus. It must be said that there are educational arguments for such an approach: it would, after all, align the ages of transfer between schools with the key stages of the national curriculum. Pupils at key stage 1 would go to first school, and would then transfer to a middle school at the beginning of key stage 2 and to a secondary school at the start of key stage 3.

However, any such move—whether brought into effect at once, or phased over a number of years—would have considerable financial implications. First, there would be capital expenditure implications. School rolls in Buckinghamshire are already rising, and taking year 7 pupils—about 8,000 in the county as a whole—would require new buildings and other facilities in many secondary schools. The LEA has estimated, for example, that it would be necessary to provide additional buildings to cope with 100 places at Misbourne Upper school in Great Missenden and 135 at Sir Henry Floyd grammar school in Aylesbury.

According to Buckinghamshire's current estimate, about £25 million in capital expenditure would be required to provide additional school accommodation in a way that would follow existing patterns of parental preference between schools. It is difficult to see how that could be achieved within the confines of the normal formulae relating to the allocation of borrowing approvals and capital spending permissions between different local education authorities.

Primary schools are understandably worried about the impact of such a change on their revenues. For middle schools, the loss of year 7, with its additional weighting—because those pupils are sitting key stage 3—would be only partly compensated for by a change in the age of transfer from first schools from 8-plus to 7-plus. Small village first schools are now becoming extremely worried about the consequences of a lowering of the age of transfer between themselves and middle schools.

I have sketched the outlines of what is, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows from earlier discussions, a very complicated issue. My hon. Friend will be aware that the LEA and the full county council are still debating the best course to follow in the interests of parents and pupils. I am grateful for the understanding that my hon. Friend has shown in his conversations with me and with representatives of the county; let me now ask him a number of questions.

First, like my constituents, I should like to know why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the decision that she made. What arguments and evidence overrode the considerable objections voiced by the local education authority? Secondly, what is the Department's assessment of the legal position concerning the Sex Discrimination Act? According to counsel's opinion, taken by Buckinghamshire, both the LEA and the Funding Agency for Schools would be liable, because they share the responsibility for planning for school places in the county.

Thirdly, are there examples of good practice in other LEAs that have had to deal with the problem in the past, from which Buckinghamshire could usefully draw in deciding on the best course to follow in the future?

Fourthly, will Ministers and officials in the Department for Education and Employment make a commitment to work with Buckinghamshire LEA and individual local schools to find a solution to the financial problems that I have described, which are causing great alarm in the county?

I know that a body of opinion in Buckinghamshire would like my hon. Friend to announce that the Secretary of State was prepared to reconsider her original decision about Beaconsfield high school in particular, but the view of the chairman of the education committee, certainly, is that such a decision is not to be expected, and that we must cope with matters as we now find them.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend is not responsible for drafting the annual Budget statement, and that it is beyond his power to give me some of the details and assurances that I seek today. My constituents feel, however, that the problems that I have described stem from a ministerial decision, and they and I now look to Ministers to help us to deal with the consequences.

2.15 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on raising this important subject.

I do not think that anyone has seriously suggested that there are any educational arguments against making the change from 12-plus to 11-plus. It makes a great deal of educational sense to make that change, and to fit in with the national curriculum. The arguments against it are solely financial and practical; I believe that in Buckinghamshire it is inevitable. As my hon. Friend said, we shall soon have an application from Chalfonts community college to change its status, and I suspect that, if it is consistent with the previous decision, the Department will approve that application.

I supported Beaconsfield high school's application to change its age of admission, because I believe that eventually all pupils in Buckinghamshire will benefit from such a change. I understand the difficulties, especially for primary schools, and—like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury—I hope that the Department will work very closely with the LEA to make it work.

2.17 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for raising this important issue, and welcome the opportunity to discuss it. He was nobly buttressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) and for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), and, as he said, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)— my ministerial colleague—has taken a close interest in these matters for constituency reasons.

Buckinghamshire has an education system of which it can be proud, and its achievements speak for themselves; but I know that those involved in education in the county are not complacent. They want not to rest on their laurels but to extend and develop opportunities for Buckinghamshire's pupils.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury knows that it is for the local education authority in respect of its schools, and for the governing bodies of individual voluntary and grant-maintained schools, to publish proposals if they wish to change their age range. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider any such proposals on their merits. We certainly have no policy of favouring one age of transfer over another. Perhaps understandably, however, my hon. Friend dwelt for some time on my right hon. Friend's recent decision, and it seems only fair for me to respond as best I can.

My hon. Friend referred particularly to the impact of the approval of proposals to admit pupils to Beaconsfield high school at the age of 11. All statutory proposals are considered on their individual merits. The Beaconsfield proposals were considered alongside proposals published by Berkshire LEA and by grant-maintained grammar schools in Slough to change their age of transfer. Beaconsfield argued that a change in Slough would seriously undermine their viability. I assure my hon. Friend that we took great care in considering the Slough proposals and those from Beaconsfield. My ministerial colleagues and I saw representatives both of those speaking in support of, and those arguing against, the proposals, including Buckinghamshire county council. Indeed, a moment ago my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield highlighted clearly how there can be more than one viewpoint in this area.

Consideration of statutory proposals often requires the Secretary of State to balance conflicting arguments. That was so in this case and it was clearly impossible to satisfy all interests.

The decision on the Slough proposals to change the age of transfer and on those from Beaconsfield high school to admit at age 11 is now taken. The Slough changes are to take effect from next September; the Beaconsfield change from September 1997. The decision cannot now be reconsidered. Berkshire LEA and the governing bodies of the voluntary and GM schools involved are now under a statutory duty to implement their proposals.

It is for Buckinghamshire county council and for the individual governing bodies of voluntary aided and grant-maintained schools in Buckinghamshire to decide how they now wish to act.

My hon. Friend referred to the implications of the Beaconsfield approval for the duty placed on Buckinghamshire under the Sex Discrimination Act. To offer a similar number of single-sex selective places for girls and boys would not necessarily prevent unlawful sex discrimination from arising. If there is an unequal number of places but demand has been met, no discrimination would seem to arise.

Beaconsfield's proposal does not change the overall number of girls' places available, but it does change the number available in each year group and offers the opportunity for single-sex education at 11.

It is for Buckinghamshire LEA to take its own legal advice on the implications of this decision for its responsibilities. It is by no means clear, however, that approval of Beaconsfield's proposals requires a change to the age of transfer throughout the county.

I understand that the education committee resolved last week to advise the county council that in the light of resource constraints it is not appropriate to conduct public consultation on changing the age of transfer. That is a matter for that body. But it might be helpful if I said a few words about the statutory proposal procedure and about capital funding.

Let us be clear about the procedure. The local education authority or governing body wishing to consider a change of age of transfer must first consult all who are likely to be affected. Buckinghamshire has already done that for schools in the Burnham area. Consultation is an essential part of the process. It provides an opportunity for those affected—including schools and parents—to express their concerns. I know that Buckinghamshire takes consultation very seriously and provides opportunities for all views to be heard.

Having consulted, the authority or governing body must then formally resolve to publish proposals, taking account of views expressed in consultation. Following publication there follows a two-month period in which formal objections to the proposals can be made. That provides a further opportunity for schools and parents to have their say. The proposals then come to my right hon. Friend to be determined.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury knows and has said, the authority has raised concerns about funding the change of age of transfer with me. I have endorsed on-going discussions between my officials and the authority on the technical aspects.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I described the arrangements. Local authorities are given permission to borrow up to a certain level to fund capital programmes for all their services, including education. Decisions on how to use the resources generated by borrowing are entirely for authorities. They must decide priorities between services and between projects within services. The borrowing limit is not the limit on authorities' capital spending. In practice authorities can and do invest capital receipts and they can use funds from their revenue budgets for capital purposes if they wish.

In determining each local education authority's share of the national total of annual capital guidelines, priority in the schools allocation has been given to: commitments arising from projects allowed for in previous credit approvals; providing new school places in areas of population growth; and implementing cost-effective schemes to remove surplus places.

After allowing for authorities' liabilities for work at voluntary aided schools and for approved capital work at special schools, all the remaining resources are then distributed by a formula to contribute towards the cost of all other capital-related work at schools. The formula is made up of elements to meet improvement work, work at special schools and other work. Those priority criteria were agreed 10 years or more ago between the local authority associations and my predecessors. They reflect authorities' statutory and contractual liabilities. Each year we undertake a review to determine whether the procedures should be amended, in the light of changes in the organisation of schools and of comments from local authorities and other interested bodies. Of course we would consider carefully any representations for a change in the criteria, particularly when they attract consensus support.

The capital funding of proposals is always dependent on the extent to which they can meet those agreed criteria. Discussions between my officials and Buckinghamshire LEA should ensure that the LEA has a realistic idea of the availability of funding. Where elements are unable to meet the national criteria it is open to the authority to bid for a supplementary credit approval, or SCA.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury wisely spoke about the concern felt by his constituents that the education of their children would be disrupted by a change to the age of transfer. There is no reason why that should be so. I know that if they proceed with this option the local education authority and the schools concerned will be anxious to minimise the disruption to the education of pupils. The requirement to consult gives parents the opportunity to satisfy themselves that appropriate arrangements are being made. If they have concerns, they should raise them at that stage.

My hon. Friend also referred to school concerns that a change to the age of transfer will cause upheaval at a time when they had been hoping for a period of stability—a point he made strongly to me when he recently came to see me. I understand those concerns. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that there will be no further changes to the national curriculum for five years in order to provide some stability in that area.

My hon. Friend went on to mention primary schools. I can understand the particular concerns expressed by primary schools and that some would see a change to the age of transfer as a threat. Others may, dare I suggest it, see it as an opportunity: either to respond to demand for places that they are currently unable to meet, or to add pre-school provision. I have said that the Department has no policy of favouring one age of transfer over another. No doubt primary schools concerned about the impact of possible age-of-transfer changes will raise their concerns with the authority.

The Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food published the rural White Paper yesterday. That makes clear that we recognise the contribution that schools can make to village life, not only for the education that they provide but for the focus that they provide for the community—the sense of security that they bring to the children and the balance that they give to village life. Many village schools are of good quality, are popular with parents and are within easy reach of the communities they serve.

If Buckinghamshire decides to propose changes to the age of transfer, I have no doubt that it will have regard to the principles set out in the White Paper when considering the possible closure of village schools.

I know that the LEA is concerned that if there is to be a change it should be managed in a planned and orderly way. Again, that is a matter for it, but I understand that concern. It is for those responsible for publishing proposals to propose the timing of the implementation, and I hope that any disruption or uncertainty can be minimised. Buckinghamshire has argued that, in its particular circumstance, a single implementation date for the majority of the county would be most appropriate. The authority has, of course, begun the process of change at an earlier date in the Burnham area. Buckinghamshire based its view on the pattern of provision in its secondary schools, and, as my hon. Friend said, the extent to which catchment areas overlap.

Most recent reorganisations have been in authorities that had operated a mixed economy of two and three-tier provision and which took the opportunity to standardise. It is for Buckinghamshire to decide how to go about any change in the light of its own circumstance, but in so far as it is possible or relevant to draw lessons from the experience of other LEAs, my officials will be happy to discuss that with the LEA, and, of course, I shall be happy to do so separately with my hon. Friend.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and I judge that it has been a helpful debate. I have already met my hon. Friend, as well as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) and members of Buckinghamshire county council. I am ready to have further meetings if that would be helpful.

I am confident that if Buckinghamshire embarks on the process that it is considering, the authority and schools will see it as an opportunity further to enhance the quality of education that is provided for Buckinghamshire pupils.