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Commons Chamber

Volume 401: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2003

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 19 March 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Transas Group Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 26 March.

Oral Answers To Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked

Drugs

1.

What recent assessment he has made of measures to create effective local anti-drugs partnerships in Wales. [102968]

Tackling the problem that drug misuse causes is an issue that is extremely important to me and to the Government. I am aware that the drug and alcohol action teams currently working in Wales will be integrated into the 22 Welsh community safety partnerships. We believe that that is a progressive way forward.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he will be aware that it is no exaggeration to say that drugs are systematically undermining the social fabric of many valleys communities, especially former mining communities. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also agree that the answer to the problem must lie in establishing strong local partnerships between all the agencies involved. In my constituency, however, Rhondda Cynon Taff—which is meant to take the lead in establishing the new anti-drugs partnership—has played no part in making sure that we have a strong approach to deal with the issue. Is that because of political failure, and will my hon. Friend make sure that RCT gets its act together soon?

I am aware that there have been problems with the operation of crime and disorder partnerships in Wales. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) raised the matter in a Westminster Hall debate a little while ago. I can tell my hon. Friend that £5 million has been provided since 2001 to the communities against drugs initiatives to support projects across Wales to tackle drug-related crime, and to disrupt the drug markets. I will, of course, ensure that my hon. Friend's comments about his local partnership are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

The Home Office initiative Operation Tarian is proving a great success in the south Wales valleys. However, will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State and perhaps liaise with the Home Office about the fact that the Home Office is contributing only £50,000 to that very important initiative? Unfortunately, that means that £3.2 million must be drawn down from other National Assembly budgets, including rehabilitation budgets. We already know that there is a huge waiting list in Wales for those resources. In some south Wales valleys, the typical waiting time is 18 months. With the best will in the world, I ask the Minister to liaise with the Home Office about bringing in some more money. Otherwise, it seems to me to be almost self-defeating.

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about Operation Tarian. It is an important initiative. It was started by police authorities in south Wales, and it is supported by colleagues in the Assembly, and by funding from the Home Office. Indeed, I was involved in discussions with colleagues when the operation was set up. The House may not be aware that South Wales police were involved in a large operation last week. Heroin, crack cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy were seized, and 83 people were arrested. Operation Tarian is making an important contribution to the intelligence gathering that is needed to combat the problem. However, I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I shall make sure that the appropriate Departments are made aware of it.

I recently held talks with Wrexham magistrates, at which I learned that there has been a very positive response to the imposition of drug treatment and testing orders. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential for people to understand that substantial funding is necessary to safeguard the orders and make them effective? Will not any suggestion that funding might be reduced undermine one of the ways that we are beginning to get to grips with the scourge of drugs in our community?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Substance abuse is not a simple problem. We must do everything that we can to break the cycle of drug misuse and criminal activity, but we must concentrate on three other initiatives—education, to prevent drug and substance misuse; treatment, including treatment for people who commit crime; and rehabilitation, to break the cycle. This year, £3 million has been allocated to drug and alcohol initiatives in Wales to enable 1,000 more people to access community detox facilities. We will need to expand that initiative, and I believe that my colleagues in the Assembly are working with the Home Office with that objective in mind.

Drugs are a bigger menace in Wales today than they were just five years ago. More people are hooked and dying, and the treatment for those who need it is totally inadequate. So what did the Government do? They demoted the drugs tsar, and then abolished the post. They removed all targets for reducing the number of people taking hard and soft drugs, and then reclassified cannabis from a class B drug to a class C drug. They have left the police and public confused about the law on the use of drugs. Even the annual drugs report has not been published since 2001. Is not the problem the fact that the Government do not have a strategy for dealing with drug abuse? Until they get one, more young people are going to get hooked, and to die. Is not it time that the Government got a proper strategy for drug abuse?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Government have provided £27 million of support for local initiatives across Wales. My colleagues in the Assembly provided a further £18 million over the next three years for initiatives, and the new community partnerships will work along those lines.

It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to make further demands when his party is committed to a 20 per cent. cut in public expenditure. What would that do for tackling the drug problem in Wales? His colleagues will have to give that answer to the people of Wales on 1 May, when once again they will be rejected.

Severnside Airport

2.

What recent representations he has received concerning a proposed Severnside Airport. [102969]

I have met representatives of the Severnside consortium, who briefed me on their proposals.

Does my right hon. Friend recall receiving from me representations that show that there is considerable opposition to the current proposals for Severnside airport on a man-made island in the Severn estuary? There is opposition from Monmouthshire county council and no support from the 18 airlines, including British Airways, that I have contacted, and I found majority opposition from the residents of Portskewett and Sudbrook in my constituency when I undertook a full household survey. Will my right hon. Friend study those representations and recommend to the Department of Transport that the proposal be rejected?

I will certainly study those views. I am well aware of the concerns of residents in his local area, not least because he brought them to my attention a few weeks ago. In the consultation exercise that is being carried out by the Department of Transport—a White Paper will follow later this year—full account will be taken of environmental, safety and economic issues, as well as of the views of local residents. The Severnside consortium has an ambitious plan to relocate traffic from the south-east of England to that area, but the views of local residents must of course be taken into account.

Does the Secretary of State still support the concept of a regional air service with Cardiff as its hub?

Yes, I do. Regional airports already play a vital role in Wales and should play an even more vital role right across Wales, from north to south and from east to west. There is great potential for increasing air traffic in that way.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that international airports are good servants but atrocious neighbours? Would it not be right to use the Severn estuary, with its almost unique quality of having the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world, to generate electricity in a clean, benign and nonpolluting way?

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a keen enthusiast for renewable energy. The Severn estuary barrage was one of the issues that we examined during our consideration of the energy White Paper. It is hugely expensive, but there are opportunities for utilising tidal and wave power, and the Welsh coast and the Severn estuary may represent such an opportunity.

Local Government Finance

3.

What discussions he has had in March on the effects of proposed council tax increases in Wales in April 2003. [102970]

My right hon. Friend and I have discussions with many people and organisations about matters affecting Wales.

Will the Minister give us the latest information on the likely average increase in council tax in Wales in the current year? Does he agree that people in Wales particularly resent high increases if they feel that decisions are largely taken in Whitehall and the Wales Office, not by their local councils? Would he be willing to allow the Welsh Assembly to have power over the way in which local government finance is raised in Wales, and will he consider local income tax as a much fairer alternative?

That is a very interesting proposition. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is hoping to stand for the office of Mayor of London. As he campaigns on this issue, he will no doubt explain to the people of London why the Lib Dem council in Southwark, supported by the Tories, has hiked the council tax by 9 per cent. He should compare that with an average council tax rise in Wales of 8 per cent. The message is simple—Lib Dem and Tory councils cost more: vote Labour on 1 May.

Has the Welsh Assembly had time to reflect on its decision to delay council elections for one year? In future, might it decide to allow council elections to concur with Assembly elections, as in Scotland? That might have a beneficial effect on council tax rises.

I am not sure that I want to be led down that road. When the Assembly decided to delay the next council elections, there were extensive discussions among all parties. A decision was taken and I do not believe that the Assembly has any intention of changing the decision at this time.

In 1997, people living in a band D house in Merthyr Tydfil paid £569 in council tax. When they receive their council tax bills in just a couple of weeks' time, they will be paying £1,003. Does the Minister think that a reasonable increase?

Some of us have longer memories than others. In the last two years of the Tory Government, council tax band D in Wales went up by 32 per cent. This year—thanks to the support of this Labour Government, working in partnership with the Labour Assembly—councils have received an extra 9 per cent. in support for public services. As I said earlier, the average council tax rise in Wales is 8 per cent. this year. One council, of course, has imposed a rise of well above that: Conservative-run Vale of Glamorgan, backed and kept in power by the nationalists, is putting up its council tax by 10 per cent. That is a clear message to the people of the Vale of Glamorgan come 1 May.

I asked whether it was a reasonable increase; I infer from his answer that the Minister thinks it is. In Blaenau Gwent, for instance, council tax has gone up by 78 per cent. since 1997. This year, people there face an 11 per cent. increase in their council tax, which will go up to £975. In Neath, the constituency of the Secretary of State for Wales, the increase since 1997 has been 56 per cent. In Cardiff, people face a rise of 12 per cent. this year, which is four times the rate of inflation. How are people on fixed incomes supposed to pay those huge rises? Do they cut down on food, stop going out or turn the heating off? Those are real questions for people. What advice would the Minister give them when they open their council tax bills in just a few weeks' time?

The hon. Gentleman could at least do us the courtesy of getting his figures right. The figures are 9 per cent. and 11 per cent. for Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff.

What would public services in Wales be like if they were subject to a 20 per cent. cut? Let me tell the House what they would be like. We would have one in five nurses taken out; one in five hospital wards closed; one in five teachers got rid of; one in five police officers got rid of; £155 million worth of cuts in every—[Interruption.]

Order. Perhaps the Minister will not mention the election in Wales any more. He has used up his ration.

Rail Services

4.

What recent discussions he has had with National Assembly Secretaries concerning rail services in Wales. [102971]

Regular ones, to ensure improvements are made.

I welcome the £2.5 million that the Assembly has allocated to improve railway stations in Wales, but does the Secretary of State accept that if we want to improve rail services we will have to attack the Reading blockage, the signalling problems at Slough and the flooding in the Chipping Sodbury tunnel? Those factors are the cause of many of the delays. Will the Secretary of State discuss this issue with his Westminster colleagues and press for improvements? What we need is partnership, and not the drawbridge mentality of the nationalists.

I could not agree more. These issues are being addressed through the record investment that is going into improving our railways. That includes investment in the Paddington to south-west Wales line. We are doubling our investment in rail infrastructure and rail services over the coming two years. If we got a Conservative Government back, they would cut rail investment by 20 per cent.

The very active and positive Cambrian coast railway liaison conference is made up of members from all parties and from none. They have been working hard but are continually disappointed that the small amount of investment needed to improve services on the Cambrian coast is withheld. Will the Secretary of State assure us that those services will be improved, as the cross-party Cambrian line support group has requested so often?

We are certainly anxious to see further support and investment to improve rail services right across Wales, including the Cambrian service. We shall look at that. However, if nationalist policies were pursued and Wales was made independent, Wales would be bankrupt and—

The Secretary of State will be aware of the fact that Virgin Trains reneged on its proposal to run seven through trains from Holyhead to London from September of next year. Will he agree to meet a delegation of business men and stakeholders from my constituency so that we can put pressure on Virgin Trains to reconsider that decision, which will have a serious impact on tourism and the economy of my area?

I shall be happy to meet that delegation, because I know of my hon. Friend's concern to improve rail services. Indeed, the people of Holyhead and people throughout Anglesey deserve improved rail services, which is what they will get under the Labour Government. I shall be happy to take up my hon. Friend's request.

While the Minister is being generous, and given the unsatisfactory service north to south and east to west in mid-Wales, will he be willing to accept representations from rail user groups about what might be done to improve the frequency and reliability of the service? Will he also give us an assurance that the Government have no plans for a real-terms cut to the subsidy for rail services in that area?

We are increasing rail investment by record amounts. I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern about rail services in that area, and the Strategic Rail Authority is proposing additional services for the heart of Wales line, which will improve services in mid-Wales. I do not know how many other requests to meet delegations on rail services I shall get, but I shall be happy to receive the hon. Gentleman's.

Given that sometimes it is a wonder that we get to London—[Interruption.]

Sometimes it is a wonder that regular rail users get to London on a Monday or get home on a Thursday. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State call in the SRA, Railtrack and all the train operators to thrash out a strategy to get rid of all the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) referred to earlier?

As a regular user of that service, I am well aware of the difficulties and how often delays occur. However, we are dealing with record under-investment over nearly 20 years of Conservative rule, which will take time to turn around. Investment in our rail services is being doubled over the next few years. That will continue for the rest of the decade and we shall see improvements on the London to south-west Wales line that will benefit my hon. Friend and me.

Terrorism

5.

What discussions he has had with (a) the National Assembly for Wales and (b) local authorities in Wales on contingency planning for a terrorist attack on nuclear installations in the Bristol channel. [102972]

The lead responsibility for counteracting terrorism lies with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, security at civil nuclear facilities is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. The UK's civil nuclear sites apply stringent security measures, regulated by the DTI's Office for Civil Nuclear Security.

Both the Wales Office and the Assembly are involved in national arrangements for dealing with the effects of any civil emergency. Within Wales the Assembly works jointly with local authorities to maintain a state of preparedness.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that 15 years ago, when we were fighting proposals for the Hinkley C pressurised water reactor, we were told that the chances of an aircraft hitting a nuclear installation were so negligible as to be irrelevant? Few people would take that view now, so is the Minister satisfied with the contingency arrangements for nuclear installations, which, on Severnside, are the most concentrated in the country? Is he satisfied with the resources for the National Radiological Protection Board and is he sure that the emergency services on both sides of the Bristol channel are able to cope with a catastrophic emergency?

The companies operating civil nuclear installations have always been required to have in place robust, detailed and well-rehearsed plans to respond to any radiological release. The plans involve emergency services and local authorities in the surrounding area and are regulated by the nuclear industry's inspectors, as the hon. Gentleman is probably aware. The arrangements were significantly enhanced following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Contingency plans were tested against the threat posed by a major incident in a live exercise at Bradwell on 10 May last year. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must always continue to maintain very high vigilance and a very high regard for those installations and ensure that they are properly cared for and properly protected, and I believe that we are doing the right thing in that respect.

Does the Minister accept that the best long-term defence against terrorist attacks on nuclear installations is to rid Britain of its civil and military nuclear roles? What can we learn from the disaster at Chernobyl, as a result of which not only that community but even farms throughout Wales were devastated?

Until yesterday, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was responsible for homeland defence. Who is now in charge of that?

Those matters are, of course, ultimately the responsibility of the Home Secretary.

Climate Change Levy

6.

What recent representations he has received about the effects of the climate change levy on manufacturing industry in Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations from individual companies and groups representing business, including the CBI.

Will the Minister confirm that, on its introduction, the Treasury said that the climate change levy would be broadly neutral for business, that manufacturing has, in fact, suffered a £90 million net tax hit, that Wales is particularly hard hit with 28 per cent. of its gross domestic product dependent on manufacturing and, furthermore, that the Engineering Employers Federation's counter-proposals would lead to greater reductions in energy use and a lower cost to business in Wales and elsewhere? [Interruption.]

The Government are committed to making Britain one of the most competitive business environments in the world. That has been demonstrated by the fact that our tax burden on business and industry is the lowest of all our major competitors, but we recognise, too, that business and industry must make a contribution to improve and protect our environment. I mentioned in my initial answer to the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met representatives of the CBI. The director of the CBI in Wales fully understands the Government's position; nevertheless, my right hon. Friend took on board the points made by the director with regard to the climate change levy and, as a result, he is in discussion with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the climate change levy has been a problem for Corus? He will be acutely conscious, as I am, of the difficulties currently facing Corus. Will he join me in praising the achievements and spirit of the whole work force at Llanwern? Will he undertake to examine urgently, with colleagues in Wales and Whitehall, whether any aspect of public policy unnecessarily disadvantages Corus in doing its business? If he identifies one, will he act swiftly to deal with it?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has been involved in detailed discussions with the management of Corus and other Ministers about the company's concerns. He carried on that job of work from the former Secretary of State for Wales, who also played an important part in helping to secure a package when Corus announced its job losses. The Government will work in partnership with colleagues in the Assembly and with Corus in every way possible to avoid any further job losses at Llanwern.

Will the Minister specifically consider offering further concessions to the steel industry in relation to the climate change levy and take into account the industry's concerns about the effect of the landfill tax? Can he confirm that the UK Government have sought approval from the Commission for emergency state aid on a contingency basis, which the Dutch Government have already done?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government have made available £30 million a year in incentives for organisations that volunteer to take part in the UK emissions trading scheme. We are working with the industry and colleagues in the European Union to ensure that we are doing the right thing and that that does not impact adversely on business and industry in Wales. I think that we are doing a good job in that respect.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [103487]

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 19 March.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Now that it seems inevitable that, sadly, there will be immense destruction in Iraq over the next few weeks, and given that the Select Committee on International Development reported earlier this year that less than half the necessary funds for the reconstruction of Afghanistan had been contributed, can the Prime Minister assure the House that he, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development will ensure that sufficient funds for the reconstruction of Iraq are provided swiftly?

First, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the reconstruction programme post conflict in Iraq is not, in fact, primarily to do with the consequences of any military conflict, but is actually to do with reconstructing the country after the years of Saddam Hussein and his rule. Secondly, I would say to him that, yes, we will ensure that the funds are available—indeed, funds have already been earmarked for the purpose—and the Secretary of State for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury are doing all that they can to make sure that we co-ordinate with American allies and also with other UN partners to ensure that the funds are available and also that the programme is available, so that in the post-conflict situation in Iraq the people of Iraq are given the future that they need.

Will the Prime Minister note that, at the present time in the Gulf, we have 37 Army chaplains, 12 RAF chaplains and 19 to 20 Royal Navy chaplains? Does that not reflect the great support of the churches for our armed services at this time? Should that not be reflected not only in this House, but in the country?

I know that my hon. Friend, because of his special responsibilities and interests in this matter, is deeply knowledgeable about the armed forces chaplains. They do an excellent job for our armed forces. At this moment in particular, the thoughts of the whole House, no matter what position we take on Iraq and the conflict, will be with our armed forces wishing them well and wishing them safety.

Following last night's vote, does the Prime Minister agree that British forces serving in the Gulf should know that, irrespective of how individual MPs or even parties voted, the whole House of Commons backs them and wishes them Godspeed and a safe return?

I am sure that the whole House will endorse those sentiments. Whatever positions people have taken—and we understand the reasons for that—I know that everyone in this House wishes our armed forces well, wishes that, if there is conflict, it will be over as quickly and as successfully as possible and would like to pay tribute to their dedication and commitment on behalf of this country.

As Saddam Hussein has rejected every single offer to disarm or leave the country, is it now a reality that the removal of Saddam Hussein has become an explicit war aim?

It is the case that if the only means of achieving the disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is the removal of the regime, then the removal of the regime of course has to be our objective. It is important that we realise that we have come to this position because we have given every opportunity for Saddam voluntarily to disarm, but the will not only of this country but of the United Nations now has to be upheld.

Given the Prime Minister's answer, the whole House also will have heard the statement by President Bush that any Iraqi commander who commits a war crime will be prosecuted. Will he confirm that that dictum goes right to the top and, despite some reports of immunity, includes Saddam Hussein himself?

There was a possibility, if Saddam Hussein was prepared to leave voluntarily, quit Iraq and spare his people the conflict, that we could have ensured that that happened. The circumstances in relation to any immunity might then have been different, but it is reasonably clear, I think, that that will not happen. I think that it is very important that those in senior positions of responsibility in Saddam Hussein's regime realise that they will be held accountable for what they have done.

When I asked the Prime Minister in the past about his plans for post-conflict Iraq, he was, quite legitimately and understandably, reluctant to give full answers because he would not have wanted to give the impression that conflict was inevitable. Now that war is looming and Saddam Hussein's days are clearly numbered, will he tell us what plans there are to put in place a civilian representative Government in Iraq?

We are in discussion now with not just the United States, but other allies and the United Nations. We want to ensure that any post-conflict authority in Iraq is endorsed and authorised by a new United Nations resolution, and I think that that will be an important part of bringing the international community back together again.

We have set out a vision statement for Iraq and the Iraqi people, and it might help if I highlight one or two of its aspects. First, we will support the Iraqi people in their desire for
"a unified Iraq within its current borders",
and we will protect their territorial integrity. Secondly, we will protect their wealth, and I repeat again that any money from Iraqi oil will go into a UN-administered trust fund for the benefit of the Iraqi people. There should be freedom in
"an Iraq which respects fundamental human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the dignity of family life",
and there should be freedom from the fear of arbitrary arrest. There should also be an
"Iraq respecting the rule of law, whose government reflects the diversity and choice of its population",
and who help to rebuild Iraq, for the Iraqi people, on the basis of unifying the Iraqi people. Those principles of peace, prosperity, freedom and good government will go some way toward showing that if there is a conflict and Saddam Hussein is removed, the future for the Iraqi people will be brighter and better as a result.

Now that the Prime Minister has received a mandate for war, will he take this opportunity to reassure the world that it is a war against Saddam Hussein, and not the Iraqi people and Muslims? Will he also reassure our Muslim communities that he will not allow them to be scapegoats for anything that might happen in the Gulf?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said because I know that it will be heard and considered closely by people in this country and abroad. Let me make it quite clear that our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people because the Iraqi people are the principal victims of Saddam Hussein. Our quarrel is with Saddam. He is the person who has been responsible for killing thousands—indeed, hundreds of thousands—of Muslim people both in his wars and through his internal repression. I know that the vast majority of the Muslim community in this country are good, law-abiding people who contribute an immense amount to our country, and we are proud of our country as a multicultural and multiracial society.

As, of course, the whole House will associate itself with the expressions of support for our armed forces and their families at home, may I ask the Prime Minister about the related issue arising from the past few days: the middle east road map? What is the status of that in the eyes of the British Government, given that the Israelis seem to feel that it can be altered as it progresses?

Our commitment is total to the middle east peace process and to the road map being published. That is the clear commitment that has been given not only on our behalf, but on behalf of the President of the United States. Of course, both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government can make their comments, but the road map is not simply a set of principles, but a detailed process for reaching the point of establishing a viable Palestinian state and an Israel that is confident of its security and recognised by all its neighbours. We are totally committed to ensuring that the road map is fulfilled.

Will the Prime Minister also reassure the House that he will maintain pressure, as he has already, on the American Administration to ensure that they continue to back the momentum for that process?

It is worth quoting what the President of the United States said last Friday on that subject because it indicates the degree of commitment that he has given. He said:

"The government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, must take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable and credible Palestinian state, and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement."
He went on to say:
"We expect … a Palestinian Prime Minister will be confirmed soon. Immediately upon confirmation, the road map for peace will be given to the Palestinians and the Israelis."
He then said:
"America is committed, and I am personally committed, to implementing our road map toward peace."
That is his commitment and my commitment, and we will work hard to ensure that it is delivered.

It is widely reported in today's newspapers that the United States intends to use a new bomb that will melt the Iraqi communications systems. Will this bomb also melt the equipment that is used in hospitals and that runs the water and electricity supplies in Baghdad? Will the Prime Minister assure us that it does not melt people?

In any military conflict, we will operate in accordance with international law. Any weapons or munitions that are used will be in accordance with international law. I assure my hon. Friend that we will do everything that we can to minimise civilian casualties and, indeed, to maximise the possibilities of a swift and successful conclusion to any conflict.

Q2. [103488]

While our thoughts and prayers are with our brave servicemen in the Gulf, will the Prime Minister reflect on one thing? Given the disgraceful and spineless attitude of the French Government, is it not highly dangerous and irresponsible to contemplate tying British defences into a European common defence and security policy?

If that was a bid for the Foreign Office badge of diplomacy, it somewhat failed. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we make sure that we participate fully in any debates about European defence. The purpose of our participation is to make sure that European defence is fully compatible with our membership of NATO. I appreciate that there is a disagreement between us and the Opposition, but I genuinely believe that the worst thing that we could do in any debate about European defence would be to leave the chair empty. If I can put it more diplomatically than the hon. Gentleman, those who might oppose our vision of how European defence matures over years would then be strengthened.

Q3. [103489]

International humanitarian law prohibits military attack that fails to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants or that disproportionately impacts on civilians. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, in the war on Iraq that the House sanctioned last night, we will not be employing cluster bombs and that electricity, transport and water infrastructure will not be targeted?

I simply say in relation to any weapons or munitions that we use that we will use only those that are in accordance with international law and with the Geneva convention. That is the responsibility of the Government and is the commitment of this Government and has been of other British Governments in the past. We will do everything that we can to minimise civilian casualties. The reason why, in respect of any military action that we take, we get legal advice not merely on the military action itself but on the targeting is to make sure that that happens. Of course, I understand that, if there is conflict, there will be civilian casualties. That, I am afraid, is in the nature of any conflict, but we will do our best to minimise them. However, I point out to my hon. Friend that civilian casualties in Iraq are occurring every day as a result of the rule of Saddam Hussein. He will be responsible for many, many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict.

Can the Prime Minister tell the House anything of his plans in terms of the state of readiness for homeland defence? What state of a war footing is the United Kingdom on in the now more likely event of international terrorism?

We have made detailed preparations for the possibility of any terrorist attack, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows. We have also spent several hundred million pounds ensuring that we have both the equipment and the planning in place. I will not go into the details of each part of that, but I assure him that we are well aware of the risk that this country—indeed, all countries—suffers and faces at the moment. We are doing everything that we can to prepare against it.

Q4. [103490]

The UK, along with dozens of other nations, stood shoulder to shoulder with the US over Afghanistan and now Iraq. That loyalty has been rewarded by the Bush Administration with the imposition of steel tariffs, the withdrawal from test ban treaties, the introduction of farm subsidies in America, and contempt for the International Criminal Court. The President rubbished and reneged on the Kyoto and Johannesburg treaties, and scuppered my right hon. Friend's attempts to open dialogue with the Palestinians in January. Can my right hon. Friend use his now legendary powers of persuasion to convince President Bush to develop a world vision worthy of his great nation?

I gather from my hon. Friend's remarks that he is not a total fan of President Bush. There are important things that President Bush has agreed to, and it is as well to balance my hon. Friend's remarks with those. First, President Bush took the case of Iraq to the United Nations. He was asked to do so and did so, and he agreed resolution 1441. I say and say again that it was not he who walked away from that deal.

Secondly, in respect of the middle east peace process, my hon. Friend will have heard the words that I spoke a moment or two ago, quoting President Bush and his commitment to that. He is the first American President to commit himself to the two-state solution of a state of Israel and a viable Palestinian state.

We are working closely on a new UN resolution in relation to reconstruction.

There are disagreements about trade, but those are familiar disagreements, not merely with the present American Administration, but with previous American Administrations. A couple of years ago, under the previous Administration of a Democrat President, I spent a large part of my time dealing with the issue of cashmere sweaters. Those things happen, and America is not the only country with which we have the odd trade disagreement. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. It is important that we use our influence to develop that global agenda, and I believe that we can do so.

Does the defeat of the Government's asylum legislation in the Court of Appeal yesterday make the achievement of the Prime Minister's target of halving asylum applications by September more or less likely?

I am pleased to say that because we won on the legal principle, that is not affected.

The Prime Minister is the only person who can claim defeat in the Court of Appeal as a triumph. The asylum organisations have all said that the policy is now in tatters. Surely this is the latest setback for a Government who introduced vouchers, then scrapped them; scrapped the white list, then reintroduced it; and have been forced by the courts almost weekly to change their policy. Small wonder that last Friday the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published a report that shows that for the second year running Britain has the worst record of all the industrialised nations. Is it not true that under the present Prime Minister we have become the asylum capital of the world?

First, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong about the judgment. The judgment supported the principle that if people do not claim in time, they do not get their benefit. There are changes to the procedures in individual cases that we can make without disturbing that basic principle. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will hold me to account on the pledge and commitment that we have given. If he looks carefully at the asylum figures for the end of last year, once the new asylum legislation came into effect, he will see that there was already a 25 per cent. drop in asylum claims. I am pleased to say that, as will become apparent in due course, that progress has continued well.

Q5. [103491]

Saddam Hussein has been offered immunity from prosecution if he leaves Iraq. On what authority was that offer made, what message does it send to other corrupt regimes, and what is my right hon. Friend's strategy for a return to a world order in which decisions are taken lawfully through the UN, rather than by the world's superpower? Or is it too late? With his help, has the foundation stone for the pax Americana already been laid?

First, the reason why we were prepared to offer such a possibility was to avoid war, which is, after all, what I thought my hon. Friend wanted. If she was saying that President Bush had been too soft and should have said that we would remove Saddam Hussein in any event, I could understand that. We wanted to try to avoid conflict by having him voluntarily disarm. Then, if he refused to do so, we were prepared to give a further chance to resolve the matter peacefully by getting him to leave the country. Now we are faced with the prospect of leaving him in place without disarming him, or making sure that we remove him from power. I earnestly ask my hon. Friend to consider this.

If we remove Saddam from power, as I believe we will have to because it is the only way of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, the people who will rejoice most will be the Iraqi people who will be free of a murderous tyrant who has done nothing but damage to his country. If she wants to know what Iraq could be like, she should talk to the people in northern Iraq who, because of British and American pilots in the no-fly zone, have been able to build something of their country, and she will see that the true impulse of the Iraqi people is for greater freedom, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law.

Q6. [103492]

What lessons does the Prime Minister think could be learnt for a post-war Iraq from the current situation in Kosovo?

First, I would say that people in Kosovo, as people in Afghanistan, whatever the difficulties, are infinitely better for being removed from the rule of brutal dictators, whether Milosovic or the Taliban. Secondly, we must stay in for the long term. It will be easier over time, but in Kosovo, as in Afghanistan, we cannot make a short-term commitment. We must make a long-term commitment to reconstruction and rebuilding those countries. But for all the difficulties in the Balkans at the moment, most obviously after the appalling assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister recently, the Balkans is at a point where it has a better prospect for peace and prosperity than probably at any time in the past 100 years. That is because we were prepared to take military action in order to remove the regime that was preventing that prosperity from coming about.

The Prime Minister will be aware that it was this Government who introduced the historic national minimum wage in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Conservative party. On behalf of temporary workers, particularly in my Corby constituency, may I thank the Government for the announcement today that the national minimum wage is to rise by three times the rate of inflation? But will my right hon. Friend consider lowering the adult rate so that 18-year-olds can qualify for the higher rate and applying a youth rate to 16 and 17-year-olds to prevent exploitation of young people in the workplace?

The point that my hon. Friend makes about young people is one that is often made. Our concern has always been to ensure that we do nothing to disturb the employment prospects of young people, but we keep the matter under review. I am pleased to say that we have published the fourth report from the independent Low Pay Commission and, as he rightly says, it will mean that the minimum wage for adults rises from the present £4.20 to £4.50 in October, and then to £4.85 in October 2004. More than 1 million people are now benefiting from the minimum wage, many of them low-paid women workers, and, combined with the working families tax credit, literally thousands of families throughout the country in every constituency are benefiting from this Labour Government's drive towards greater equality.

Q7. [103493]

During the next few weeks our humanitarian response to the Iraqi crisis will be as important as our military one. Given the monumental mess that the Secretary of State for International Development has made this week of her own position, what confidence can we have that she is now the right person to do that job?

We can have the confidence of the experience over many years in which that Department has gained a reputation throughout the world for the humanitarian assistance that it has given. That is as a result of the co-operation that has taken place not just between that Department and other Departments, but with the United Nations and with the American Government. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will put every effort into the humanitarian assistance that is required, and we will make sure, in particular, that as military action develops we are able to take care of the Iraqi people in a way that Saddam Hussein has not been able to do.

Q8. [103494]

The Prime Minister, in his powerful speech yesterday and again in his response to the Leader of the Opposition this lunchtime, has confirmed that it is crucial that any post-war settlement for Saddam Hussein's Iraq involves the UN in the administration and control of the oil revenues. We all know that during the next few weeks the logistical pressures on the Government, particularly on the Prime Minister, will be enormous, so can he reassure the House that he will talk to the Foreign Secretary to insist that the detail of that arrangement is pursued with the utmost vigour with the Americans and involving the EU partners, both prospective from the enlargement countries and those that we have at the moment, including those who did not agree with the Government at the Security Council?

There are two aspects. The first is the humanitarian relief that is necessary as military action gets under way, on which the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence are working closely, obviously, with our military allies, particularly the US. Indeed, I took a meeting on that issue this morning. The second aspect will be humanitarian assistance in the post-conflict situation, which should be done under a UN resolution, as in relation to the administration, and of course we want to involve as many countries as possible.

Q9. [103495]

Does the Prime Minister believe that the United Nations needs to reform? If so, in what way should it reform, and what role will he have in that?

There are issues, obviously, in relation to the UN Security Council and reform of it, which we will have to discuss with others, but the issue is not really institutional; it is whether we can construct a sufficiently strong partnership between Europe and America and a global agenda around which people can unite. If they cannot unite politically, no amount of institutional tinkering will help us resolve those problems. That is why, at the end of this, we need a period of reflection to see how we put that partnership back together, and how we construct the global agenda that would bring in a lot more people to our way of thinking. That, whatever the institutional arguments in the UN, is what is essential.

Now that military units are moving into what was previously the demilitarised zone in Kuwait and Iraq, will my right hon. Friend offer the House an assurance today that correct records and registers of inoculations, medication administered and weapons used in different sectors will be kept so that the parents of serving men and women can be assured that the right kind of inquiries can be made in the event of any condition arising akin to that which is called Gulf war syndrome?

I am sure that my hon. Friend's point is justified. I know that procedures are already in place to do that, and, if he will allow me, I will write to him setting those out in detail. His point, however, is obviously important for the security and safety of our armed forces personnel.

Q10. [103496]

Despite what the Prime Minister said to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) a moment ago, the fact is that a common European defence policy is central to the new draft constitution for Europe. Why will he not allow the people of Britain the right to have a referendum so that they can have their say on the matter?

Probably for the same reason that the Conservatives did not have one on Maastricht—[Interruption.] I know that they have changed a little bit in the meantime—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] May I ask Conservative Members to please sort this matter out among themselves, and come back later? The purpose of European defence is in relation to circumstances in which NATO does not want to undertake an operation but European defence has the capability of doing so.

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but that is true. The best example of that is Bosnia in the early 1990s. Because, at that point, America did not want to become engaged, we did not have the capability of protecting people in Bosnia. As a result of that, thousands of people died, and we are still in Bosnia more than 10 years later.

Were cathedrals such as Durham, Lincoln or Wells to be damaged, what would we feel? What precautions are being taken about Kerbala, Najaf, Ur, Hatra and the other great sites? That will be difficult, given that, as at Samarra last time, Saddam may place military objects near the ancient sites.

I am glad that my hon. Friend recognises the propensity towards total irresponsibility of Saddam. I assure him that we are fully committed to the protection of cultural property. That is not merely the Government's position: we are also committed to that under the Geneva conventions. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has talked to him about that, and we will do everything that we can to make sure that sites of cultural or religious significance are properly and fully protected.

Q11. [103497]

On a domestic matter, does the Prime Minister support in principle the devolution of student funding arrangements to the Welsh Assembly, given that the Labour-Liberal Democrat partnership has requested that?

The Secretary of State for Wales informs me that discussions about the issue are under way.

Iraq (Humanitarian Aid)

12.30 pm

(urgent question)

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement in response to the Select Committee on International Development's report on humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

rose

Order. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) asked for an urgent question, which I have granted. I am not responsible for the identity of the Minister who comes to the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] Order. He is a very good Minister.

I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who is doing her job in New York today discussing—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Fabricant, you get very excited at times. We are considering a serious matter. I have granted the urgent question and I can stop it if such behaviour continues in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Meriden asked for the urgent question and she is happy with the Minister.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As you say, the matter is serious and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has asked me to reply to this important question about the way in which we tackle the crisis in Iraq.

The Government strongly welcome the Select Committee on International Development's fourth report, which was presented to the House a week ago. We will give a detailed response to its various recommendations in due course. However, one of the crucial matters that it raises is the way in which the Government would move forward in the immediate post-conflict situation to try to resolve some of the humanitarian issues, and especially whether we would seek a United Nations resolution—or, indeed, more than one—to take the process forward.

I confirm that we shall seek a further resolution to deal with the humanitarian issues. We shall try to transfer the oil-for-food programme to the United Nations Secretary-General to enable him to keep the process functioning and use UN facilities to do that. We will also seek a new UN resolution to provide authority for reconstruction and development work, and a proper mandate for any interim authority that is likely to operate in the territory of Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed. We will also try to ensure the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid, to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity and to allow UN sanctions to be lifted, thus enabling food and other necessary items to arrive.

We shall also enable an international reconstruction programme to facilitate the use of oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and to endorse a post-conflict administration in Iraq, which will lead to a representative Government who would uphold human rights and rule of law for all Iraqis.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this urgent question on a serious and pressing matter. We appreciate that the Secretary of State for International Development is on her way to the United Nations in New York, as the Foreign Secretary announced, to seek a fresh Security Council resolution. That was contained in the text of the motion that we debated yesterday. We wish her success. But we are surprised that the answers to our question are to be given by a Foreign Office Minister, given that the Select Committee report calls for an immediate statement from the Department for International Development. Given that the Under-Secretary for that Department is present, it appears to us that there has been some dispute about who should answer the question.

The Secretary of State issued a written statement last Thursday, but it fell far short of responding to the 23 recommendations and conclusions in the Select Committee report. As it says on page 2 of the report, in the first stages of any conflict it is the military forces that will have primary responsibility for the initial delivery of humanitarian assistance. Is the Minister aware, however, of the concern of the non-governmental organisations—some of which are already in Iraq and the surrounding countries, ready to help—about the blurring of responsibility between military action and humanitarian relief?

The report is highly critical of the lack of consultation with the NGOs; indeed, we understand that such consultation has commenced only in the last two weeks. What is being done to improve information sharing with NGOs and to co-ordinate the UK and US aid agencies? Who is co-ordinating work with the military? Is it the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence, USAID, or the US Department of Defence? We need to know who is co-ordinating this work.

It is reported that the oil-for-food programme, which has been providing 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population with food aid at a cost of $250 million a month, has been suspended. What assessment has the Department for International Development made of how to substitute food relief on such a large scale? In a written answer to the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, it was stated that DFID had no more contingency funds available for 2002–03, although the Secretary of State has said that the Chancellor has allocated an additional £10 million. We understand, however, that the Ministry of Defence has been granted an additional £50 million for humanitarian relief purposes. Does this mean that the Ministry of Defence will take the lead on the humanitarian side in the early stages?

What estimate have the Government made of the total sum that will be required to finance a meaningful post-war reconstruction of Iraq, and for how many years do they estimate that such a programme will continue? The International Development Committee concluded that it was as yet not convinced that there was, to use the Prime Minister's words,
"a humanitarian plan that is every bit as viable and well worked out as a military plan".
We wholeheartedly agree with that conclusion. When will the Secretary of State herself make a statement to the House to prove us wrong?

May I first deal with why a Foreign Office Minister is dealing with this matter? I was in Washington last week, talking to USAID about precisely this issue, and discussing with the US Administration some of the terms of the resolutions that we will seek to put to the United Nations. It is currently envisaged that we will be putting at least two such resolutions to the UN. The first will deal with the immediate issues relating to the oil-for-food programme and humanitarian assistance. A further resolution will deal with some of the more complex issues relating to the humanitarian issues that will arise in the months to come. Both resolutions follow from the recommendations made in the report.

I hope that I have dealt at least to some extent with why I am answering rather than my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, although no doubt I have not done so to the hon. Lady's satisfaction.

The 23 recommendations are being examined, and a full and detailed response will be made in due course.

The non-governmental organisations want to ensure that they are fully apprised of the developing situation. Through DFID, we have been holding weekly meetings with the NGOs. One of their complaints is that they do not know all the details of precisely what will happen at various stages. There has of course been concern about the revealing of some military operations, but I think that we can now be much more open with the NGOs about what is likely to happen, and deal with many of the questions that they have been asking. I hope that the meetings will enable them to feel that they are receiving the information that they want.

The hon. Lady asked who was co-ordinating the aid with the military. A number of steps are being taken. DFID has two advisers on humanitarian issues, who have been posted with 1 Division and will work with the military. They are experts on not just human rights but humanitarian issues applying to the military. The military will be the first in there, and are responsible for ensuring that they operate in a proper humanitarian context. There is also a humanitarian expert from DFID with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance—ORHA—the American organisation that expects to administer the post-conflict situation.

The key problem is that 60 per cent. of Iraqis depend on the oil-for-food programme because of the way in which Saddam Hussein has run the country. It is crucial for the programme to go on functioning. The UN resolution under discussion is intended to ensure that it does so, and we shall be transferring responsibilities for the administration of the system to the UN Secretary-General.

As for resources, £100 million of bilateral humanitarian aid has been allocated since 1991. There is £10 million of new money for the contingency plans of the UN agencies. The Department has secured £70 million from the contingency reserve, and the military have a further £30 million for humanitarian and human rights purposes. The military will have responsibility at the beginning for ensuring the early delivery of humanitarian aid, which is why they have that £30 million. While the military operations are in progress they will also do humanitarian work, which will be followed up by the NGOs as security is established. The UN will then be brought in to ensure that the whole process is administered properly. There will, therefore, be proper and effective co-ordination.

It was clear from my discussions with USAID that—along with DFID, for which it has nothing but praise—it has a detailed humanitarian plan to ensure that the various possible post-conflict scenarios can be dealt with. The Committee was worried that there might have been no detailed planning, but according to what I see and have been able to establish from discussions between DFID and USAID, the planning has been done and the humanitarian effort will be conducted properly.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on tabling this urgent question, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done on this issue over many weeks in the run-up to this crisis. In the light of this morning's somewhat cobbled together response, I am quite relieved that the Secretary of State is staying in her post for the next few weeks—even if she will be incarcerated in the Tower of London come July.

The humanitarian situation is going to be dire, and we demand to know, and should have known long before this, exactly what the Department's contingency plans are. I want to move the Minister on to post-conflict reconstruction. It seems to us that the USA already has very advanced plans, even to the extent of awarding contracts to American companies. What part is Britain playing in post-conflict reconstruction, and what British companies will play a part in it? Exactly how much money are the British Government going to spend on post-conflict humanitarian aid or reconstruction? Can we have an assurance that that money will not come out of DFID's budget, which is meant for the very poorest people in the world? Finally, can we also have an assurance that the oil revenues that we are told will be put in trust for the people of Iraq will not be used to repair the damage done by American bombers in the next few weeks?

I confirm that, as part of the UN resolutions, we want to make it very clear that every single penny of the oil money that has not been plundered by Saddam Hussein already should go to the people of Iraq. It is very clear that the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is having in New York and in Washington are in order to ensure that the resources are available to deal with the post-conflict situation, and that the oil money that will be put in trust for the people of Iraq will be deployed exclusively for their benefit. We want to ensure, and to be quite unequivocal, that that is our intention.

On British companies, USAID has at this stage used primarily American resources to let a number of contracts to American companies. We have received reassurance from the US Administration that many of those companies will subcontract up to 50 per cent. of the work that they will do as part of the humanitarian response, and that will be available to other countries to bid for. USAID assured me that the country that it works with most effectively is Britain, and that the Department that it works with most effectively is DFID. So British companies currently operating with DFID and other Government Departments will be able to undertake, and to bid for, contracts through the American companies. We are very conscious of this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will discuss the detail of how this will be done in Washington.

The hon. Lady asked exactly how much money will be spent, and she is rightly concerned about the idea that resources intended for the very poorest might be diverted elsewhere. It is our intention that that should not happen, and, as I have said there is provision in the contingency reserve. We want to protect the money that is already being applied for the very poorest, and to ensure that those resources are maintained and allocated properly. However, we also want to ensure that we deal with our responsibilities to the people of Iraq, and we will do so.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the consequences of the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons in the Gulf war. Nearly 2,000 Kuwaitis have been killed or injured since that war by exploding bombs, and there are many birth defects and cancers in Iraq. Ministers have failed to deny that such weapons will be used in the coming conflict. Assuming that they are used, what special arrangements will be made to deal with their humanitarian consequences?

I have seen in Afghanistan some of the damage that can be done by the weapons deployed in conflict situations. It is important that we support the good work being done by various NGOs in trying to ensure that there is a proper clean-up of the results of conflict. As my hon. Friend will know, the Ottawa agreement does not make the use of cluster bombs unlawful. At this stage, I cannot say what the intentions are in respect of those weapons. However, when it comes to targeting, we are determined that the coalition forces will do everything possible to ensure that they avoid civilian casualties, and to avoid creating circumstances that will cause civilian casualties in the aftermath of a conflict. We are very conscious of the matter, and we will seek to deal with it.

I have two straightforward questions for the Minister, about food security and internally displaced people. It is estimated that, between now and the end of March, 460,000 tonnes of food aid will be needed in Iraq. Only a third of that amount is immediately available. How is the rest to be funded and delivered?

On IDPs, practically no provision has yet been made to provide refuges for people internally displaced as a result of the conflict in Iraq. Who is getting a grip on providing and funding such refuges?

A lot of planning has been done on food security. We have talked to the various NGOs that may have to deal with some of the IDPs, and to the countries that may be affected as people try to move towards their borders. We have been seeking agreements with other countries about how they will respond to the refugees coming towards their borders. We have also been talking to the military, who will obviously come across IDPs very quickly. We have discussed how they will ensure that those people's safety is guaranteed and how they will ensure that IDPs get the humanitarian aid that they need as quickly as possible. There are plans in place, therefore, to deal with both the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give him a more detailed response.

As my hon. Friend knows, thousands of Kurds died unnecessarily in 1991 because neighbouring countries shut their borders. That underlines the point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). Turkey and Syria shut their borders, but Iran was the exception. That has been known for some time. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister is standing in, so I shall not press him too hard on the matter, but I am sure that somebody will have had talks with the neighbouring countries by now. I am sure that the House is keen to know what the response has been.

Secondly, the Kurds are already moving out of the area, heading towards the mountains and the villages where their relatives are. The UN forces have gone, leaving the Kurds with the keys to the doors of the buildings where there are food supplies, blankets and tents. However, they have not left any way to transport those items. This is an urgent matter, and I hope that the Minister will look into it very soon.

Obviously, the situation in the north, where the Kurds are, is somewhat better than elsewhere in Iraq. There at least we can make some provision to deal with some of the humanitarian issues involved. We are in discussion with representatives of the Kurds in the north about how to go about that, and how best to ensure that they can deal with any refugees who come their way.

We do not anticipate that large numbers of people will seek to cross the Turkish border. I spoke to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad a couple of weeks ago, about the circumstances in relation to that country. At the moment, although they are not anxious to have large numbers of people cross their border, the Syrians are making some provision to assist the ones who may come in Syria's direction.

We anticipate that most people will head towards Iran. I have also talked to the Iranian Foreign Minister and others about how Iran will deal with that eventuality. The Iranians are working with us to minimise the problems that refugees who go towards Iran may face.

There is a lot of discussion going on, with Syria and Iran, and, obviously, with Kuwait. We are also talking to the people who are in control in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq.

The Minister will realise that his handling of the urgent question today is not inspiring confidence. His reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on IDPs was not good. In the previous Gulf conflict, the western relief programme was hampered by the absence of UN High Commissioner for Refugees personnel. The UNHCR did not play its usual co-ordination role—which we are all concerned about this time—because its mandate did not cover IDPs. Will the Minister say whether that is still true, or will the UNCHR be able to play its full role in any relief programme, irrespective of the status of those people?

The International Committee of the Red Cross will obviously have an important role in the whole process, as will the UNHCR. Those organisations clearly have a responsibility, and there is no question but that they will accept it. Obviously, some of the organisations were reluctant to enter into discussions at too early a stage, as they needed to cover their international positions. However, we are now in a position to enter into detailed discussions with them. We have started preliminary discussions already. We will follow up on those, and ensure that these matters are dealt with.

The hon. Lady began her question with some rather curmudgeonly remarks, and I am sorry to disappoint her. However, we are trying to ensure that we deal with these matters seriously. If she wants to make points that are rather silly and pathetic, that is a matter for her.

We have been told that Saddam Hussein has put in place a military plan to divide his country into quarters. There is no doubt that that will make it extremely difficult for people to move around inside Iraq. Given what my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said about the movement of people to the borders, does my hon. Friend the Minister think that there is a really urgent need to revisit the negotiations with neighbouring states about the acceptance of refugees? Is there not an urgent need that food, medicine and shelter be provided for the people who arrive at those borders?

Substantial negotiations have already been held with each of the Governments involved about matters of food and shelter. My hon. Friend is right to say that Saddam Hussein's apparent proposals for deployment of his military forces may make it difficult for some refugees to flee. We do not know yet how he will try to manage that deployment, but we will certainly guarantee to talk to the adjoining countries to ensure that they are aware of the support that we can provide. We will also ensure that the UN agencies and the other NGOs are engaged, and we will do everything that we can to protect the humanitarian needs of all those who have to flee from any conflict.

Some people are worried about what our troops might be doing when they go into the territories that the House is discussing but, as in the past, so in the future, they will be working to help the people who need their help. I am sure that the Minister will agree about that. Does he share my concern that Oxfam representatives, speaking for the NGOs, told the "Newsnight" programme the other evening that they would not seek finance from the UK or the US? Where will they get their finance? On Monday evening, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the fact that the $130 million appeal for UN humanitarian aid had realised only $30 million. Who has supplied that $30 million?

The NGOs will have to decide how they want to deal with any particular request for money. Some may feel that they want to make requests, and in those circumstances we will discuss such requests with them. Some may decide that they do not want to do so. There is nothing that we can do about that, but we hope that they will become engaged in the relief process.

On the availability of resources, DFID has made a call on its contingency reserve. We want to ensure that sufficient resources are available to enable humanitarian efforts to be carried out.

Can the Minister clarify the time scale for the necessary resolution at the UN Security Council to restart the oil-for-food programme, given the comments of the UN coordinator to the Select Committee that that could take up to four weeks?

As regards the time scale for the initial humanitarian resolution, the objective is that it should be done almost straight away. Provided that we can complete the discussions with the UN, we would hope to be able to do it within a matter of days or a week or so. The wider humanitarian effort may require a little more discussion in the Security Council; we have draft proposals that we hope to discuss with other members of it. That may take a week or two.

On the oil-for-food programme, we have already worked on plans to ensure that it keeps operating. The basic structure exists for its broad administration, but we will have to ensure that when the coalition forces are in Iraq, and the NGOs follow them up, the necessary administrative structure is in place to ensure that everyone gets the food and other resources that they urgently need.

The Minister won the respect of the House when he was sacked for revealing the communications between his old Department and others. He seems to have been reappointed on the condition that he does not repeat the offence or gives the impression that no communication is taking place. Will he now tell the House which Department is co-ordinating this very important humanitarian operation? If it is DFID, why is not the excellent Under-Secretary of State for International Development giving us much more informative answers, as I am sure that she could? If it is not DFID, does that reflect the uncertain status of the Secretary of State for that Department?

The right hon. Gentleman is a former Secretary of State, and I expect something more from him than cheap comments like that. We are dealing with issues of conflict, refugees and ensuring that lives are protected. The cheap comments that he comes out with make his questions barely worth answering, but let me try to do so in any event.

He asked which Department is co-ordinating the operation. Obviously, DFID is co-ordinating it through other Departments and committees. Cabinet Committees are also dealing with the issue, and DFID is co-ordinating some of the operations between the UN and the various other NGOs that will deal with the post-conflict situation.

The reason I am answering questions is that I have just come back from Washington, where I discussed the terms of the UN resolutions and the detail of how the post-conflict humanitarian circumstances will be dealt with by the United States and by this country.

Does the Minister share the concerns of the civilian NGOs who want to follow any conflict as soon as possible with civilian aid in Iraq? Is he aware that the cost of militarily delivered humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan was $7 for a certain item that could be delivered by civilian humanitarian aid at a cost of 30 cents per item, and that it is therefore important to get the civilian NGOs into Iraq as soon as possible? Does he agree that conflict reconstruction in Iraq will arise from three sources—the previous Gulf war, the neglect of Iraq by Saddam Hussein and any destruction that occurs in this conflict—and that it would therefore be wrong for the entire revenues of the oil programme in Iraq to be used for that? Can he say a little more about the extra resources that his Government will make available directly to DFID for humanitarian efforts in Iraq not only now, but in future?

We have been clear that the oil money will be put into a trust and will be used for the benefit of the people of Iraq. There is also substantial further American money that is being deployed for humanitarian and aid purposes, as well as the resources I mentioned earlier that will be deployed by the British Government, and we anticipate that other countries will wish to make substantial contributions, as will the United Nations.

As for the cost, it is true that military costs will be higher than those of NGOs. The problem with Iraq, however, is that although some NGOs have operated there in the past, there are very few of them and they do not operate freely. Furthermore, many of them will withdraw in the next few weeks. Post conflict, therefore, the military will be there first. It is best that they are in a position quickly to deliver the aid that is needed, so they have been resourced to do that. However, as soon as we are able to do so, we will bring in other NGOs—the UN and other organisations—to ensure that aid is deployed, as the hon. Gentleman says, more cheaply, but, more importantly, more effectively.

Will my hon. Friend look at paragraph 25 of the report, which records the UN's estimate that during the Gulf war between 15,000 and 30,000 refugees died from infectious diseases such as measles, diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid? Will the Government ensure that refugee camps have not only sanitation and clean water, but immunisation for refugees as they arrive and health care for those who are ill?

I assure my hon. Friend that there are provisions to deal with the availability of water supplies in any refugee camps that may need to be set up and to ensure, in terms of the military operations that are conducted, that there is as little disruption as possible to proper water supplies so as to minimise the problems that we may face post conflict.

On immunisation, it is enormously important that if any refugee camps are set up there are effective immunisation programmes to ensure that infectious diseases are not spread within them. We shall certainly put in place the medical and other facilities to ensure that effective immunisation programmes are set up.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who gladly gave support to the Prime Minister yesterday, and who admire enormously the national leadership that he is giving, nevertheless attach almost equal importance to the subject that we are discussing? Does he accept that it is absolutely incredible that he should be answering these questions? We are sorry that the Under-Secretary appears to have lost her voice, but it is important that whoever is in charge of these matters—the Minister said that it is the Secretary of State—should enjoy the confidence of this House. One Minister has lost her voice; the other should lose her job.

I have passed on to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the hon. Gentleman's sympathy for the loss of her voice. I assure him that it will come back and will be as strong and effective as ever. I am fully aware that the House attaches enormous importance—as do my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I—to the issue of humanitarian aid, and we will make sure that the Government treat it as a very high priority so as to ensure that that aid, and the human rights back-up that is also required, is in place.

Points Of Order

1.8 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to stress that in asking for the urgent question today we knew that the Secretary of State was on her way elsewhere. I hope that I made that clear. Is it in order, however, for the Department that is the focus of the urgent question to pass on the responsibility for answering to another Department? I have to say that I found all the answers profoundly unsatisfactory. I repeat my request for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State, and I will keep on asking for it until we get it.

Order. I am going to answer the point of order. It may be, once I have answered it, that the hon. Gentleman will not have to raise anything further.

It is up to the Government which Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to respond on such matters.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have observed, as I have, that the Minister from the Department for International Development, who is in her place, spent almost the entire time briefing the Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. What puzzles me, no doubt the House, and perhaps even you, Mr. Speaker, is that, if the Minister who obviously knows about this matter is sitting silent, and the Minister who does not seem to know very much about it is attempting to answer questions but is being briefed by the Minister who does, what sort of attitude on the part of the Government does that display to the House and to you, Mr. Speaker? Why do we have to have this musical chairs act when we are engaged in discussing a very serious matter and should be getting proper answers from the proper Department—the Secretary of State having apparently fled the country?

I say to the shadow Leader of the House that we must move on to the protected business. The matters that have been raised have nothing to do with the Chair.

Are there further points of order? I want to move on from the urgent question, as it has run for long enough.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have heard reports, as yet unconfirmed, that Tariq Aziz has defected to northern Iraq, to territory held by the Kurdistan Democratic Party. If that report is confirmed, it would be useful to have a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We too have heard these rumours. At this point, they have not been confirmed. We are seeking confirmation.

It is, Mr. Speaker. The Government are advising the citizens of this country to lay in stores including tinned food, bottled water, a torch and blankets, yet there is no further detail as to why they should be laying in such stores. If no Minister has asked to come to make a statement on this matter, I would like your advice, Mr. Speaker, on how best to prise from the Government rather more detail on what is a somewhat bizarre piece of advice.

The hon. Lady is a very experienced Member of Parliament and I would have thought that her first move would be to phone the Minister concerned and ask him.

I am not inviting her to do so, but she might start at the top and then work her way down.

Further to the point of order that was raised by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), Mr. Speaker, to which the Minister responded a moment or two ago. May I suggest through you that, if the rumour is confirmed, the Minister be invited to make a definitive statement later today?

Further to the point of order that was raised by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley, Mr. Speaker, and further to the Minister's intervention during that point of order. May I suggest to the Minister that, throughout the coming conflict over the next few days, if he does have information that may be of benefit to the House, this side of the House, through the usual channels, will be very willing to facilitate the interruption of business at any sensible and convenient hour, or to stay later than the normal hours, so that the House can be kept fully informed, where appropriate, of information that is not militarily sensitive?

We will try to keep the House informed. We need to be careful about rumours, because rumours often sweep through. The rumour—and I want to emphasise that it is no more than a rumour at this stage—is from a Bulgarian source. [Interruption.] It is no more than a rumour, but it is that Tariq Aziz may have been killed. There are rumours at the moment but we do not know whether they are true. We will seek to clarify the situation. Once we have clarified the situation, I will be sure to keep hon. Members on the Opposition Benches informed.

Registration Of Private Foster Carers And Child Protection

1.14 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the registration of private foster carers; to institute procedures for identifying and monitoring children arriving in the United Kingdom unaccompanied by adults with parental responsibility and make provision for their welfare; and to amend the law with regard to joint enterprise when prosecuting carers responsible for the death of children in their care; and for connected purposes.
My Bill is wide ranging. It deals with three main aspects of child protection, all of which are very topical after a string of child abuse and child murder cases—most prominently, the tragic murder of Victoria Climbié at the hands of her private foster carers, following which there was the comprehensive report by Lord Lamming on the whole horrific series of blunders that led up to the murder. The horrendous circumstances of Victoria Climbié's death should not, however, lead us to overlook the many other tragic murders of children at the hands of their parents or carers.

It is difficult to comprehend, but, in this country, an average of 79 child homicides happen every year—mostly involving children under the age of five and mostly at the hands of the child's parents or carers. More incredible still is how few murder convictions are subsequently secured. Out of 366 such cases that were investigated by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, only 99 resulted in a conviction, and no further action was taken in a staggering 225 cases. Of the convictions, few were actually for murder if they involved a couple jointly, because of the difficulties of providing joint enterprise evidence and of proving who struck the fatal blow. Consequently, many people escape with the lesser charge of cruelty, as happened in the case of four-year-old John Smith in my constituency. He died from brain injuries after a catalogue of abuse by his foster parents, Simon and Michelle McWilliam. They received a maximum eight-year sentence for cruelty, not murder, as each blamed the other.

I know that the Government and the Law Commission are sympathetic to changes in the law, although attempts to amend the Criminal Justice Bill in Committee earlier this month were not taken up. My Bill offers a second chance and would place a duty of care on parents if a child was suffering and establish a charge of joint enterprise on parents equally if, when charged with the death of a child, they gave similar accounts of the circumstances leading up to the death that later turned out to be false. In the meantime, the situation could be helped by better guidance from judges to juries on the complicated matter of joint enterprise.

My second and main subject is the absence of a legal requirement for the registration of commercial private foster carers. Child protection legislation can be traced back to the Infant Life Protection Act 1872, which was produced in the wake of a Select Committee report on private fostering—or baby farming, as it was then known. That report was the response to the case of a Mrs. Walters, who, in 1870, was tried and executed for the murder of several children. That legislation was the first recognition of a public duty in this area. Much more legislation has followed. The Nurseries and Childminding Regulation Act 1948 provided a set of checks on child minders. Registration followed with a 1968 Act. Those Acts have promoted a strong professional culture with training and support benefits for child minders. There were extensive improvements to recognise the paramouncy of children's welfare in the Children Act 1989. In 1993, an inspection of private fostering by the social services inspectorate raised some real concerns about the welfare of children who are cared for in this way. In 1997, the Utting report, which was commissioned by the Government, came down strongly in favour of a system of private foster care registration. The report stated that children in private foster care are
"extremely vulnerable and at very considerable risk of abuse".
However, Utting's recommendation was not subsequently taken up.

In 1999, a joint working party on foster care revealed the high potential for abuse and neglect. It urged the regulation of private fostering and a public awareness campaign. Most recently, Lord Lamming has recommended a review of the situation. Through all of this time, we have seen extensive regulations for child minding; care standards for the inspection of care homes and foster agencies; new adoption rights and requirements; hundreds of thousands of people dealing with young people being subjected to checks by the Criminal Records Bureau; and even legislation to clamp down on puppy farming. However, incredibly, people who offer their services as private foster carers—often as complete strangers—have no legal compunction to register their services, although local authority registers do exist. For those people, unknown to local social services departments, there can be no guarantee of the quality of care, no guarantee that the foster carer is accessing appropriate training support and benefit, and no control over the number of different placements that the child will experience—which, under "Quality Protects" guidelines, should be no more than three.

I am sure that the great majority of private foster carers do a good job and pose no threat to their charges. However, we simply do not know. In any case, the Climbié inquiry was the first inquiry into the case of a privately fostered child by any central Government or local government board. We have no idea of the extent of the problem. After all, the Department of Health stopped collecting data on private fostering in 1991 because its figures were so inaccurate.

It has been estimated that there are between 8,000 and 10,000 private foster carers in this country, mostly for under-five-year-olds from west Africa. However, that is probably only the tip of the iceberg. Since the 1991 regulations, there have been local registers of foster carers but there is no legal penalty for not registering, and many people are ignorant of the requirements. Similarly, local authorities have a duty of care for the general welfare of privately fostered children; but they have to find those children first and even then they have few powers to dismiss poor foster carers. Added to that, surveys and inspections show that the monitoring of private foster arrangements has low priority with many local authorities and, in some cases, it is non-existent.

It is thus time to make it a legal requirement for private foster carers to notify their activities to a register of private foster carers, with penalties if they fail to do so. It would also be an offence for people to entrust their children to a private foster carer who is not so registered. It is time to expose an underground activity to the reasonable scrutiny of the light of day. There is no guarantee that all private foster carers would register, but the measure should act as a significant incentive, accompanied by local awareness campaigns.

The definition of private foster care is:
"When a child up to the age of 16 (or 18 if disabled) is placed for more than 28 days in the care of someone who is not a close relative, guardian or someone with parental responsibilities".
Close relatives are parents, step-parents, siblings, brothers or sisters of a parent, or grandparents.

The register would not be easy to police; no system can be foolproof. I do not want to play the nanny state and interfere with arrangements for children who are legitimately attending boarding schools or language schools or who are on holiday exchanges and so on. In most cases, there are existing checks on those educational establishments and the families with whom they may place children. It should be possible to establish regulations to exclude what are technically different types of fostering.

My Bill would set up a national register of private foster carers of children aged under 11, with penalties for non-registration that are similar to those for childminding registration. The register would be simple and could be run for relatively little cost by an agency, using arrangements similar to those for the adoption register. The registration requirements would be minimal.

There would be many advantages. The register would be available to birth parents who still wanted to pursue a private foster arrangement. It would enable local authorities to ensure that standards of care were suitable and that appropriate help was offered. A national register would deter private foster carers who had fallen foul of local authority inspections or authorised foster agencies, but who had not committed offences sufficient to be put on the Department of Health 99 list and had simply moved to another area and set up business there. The register would be welcomed by all those involved with children in care in this country, and would provide an added degree of protection for children placed in private foster care, both domestically and from overseas, with minimal intrusion.

My third and final consideration concerns children who arrive at ports or airports, unaccompanied by adults who are their parents or who have parental responsibility. That is how Victoria Climbié arrived on our shores. That is how many Nigerian girls arrive at Gatwick airport claiming asylum, only for many of them to end up in prostitution at the hands of pimps in northern Italy. That is how many children are being trafficked by unscrupulous individuals and destined for a grim existence; let alone all the many children who are sent by their parents to the UK in the hope of a better future, but largely in ignorance of the care they will receive or the circumstances in which they will be placed.

My Bill would make provision for better checks on children arriving in the UK unaccompanied by parents, close relatives or those with parental responsibility. Such unaccompanied children would be required to have special written and logged permission from their parents or those with parental responsibility, with information about the length of their stay and who will be responsible for them while they are resident in the UK. Arrangements with schools, language schools and so on would require no further checking but, under the new register, checks would need to be made for children destined to live in commercial private foster care or under other arrangements. Local agencies, such as social services, would be alerted so that the necessary monitoring provisions could be instituted as appropriate.

Failure to produce permission to travel would warrant investigation by the authorities before the child is able to leave the port of entry, either to be returned home or to live in the UK. Such arrangements would go a long way towards clamping down on child trafficking, the abuse of unaccompanied child asylum seekers and the commercial exploitation of children.

My Bill is intended to institute only minimal interference and regulation, but the primary purpose of any such changes should be not the benefit of carers but the protection of children. It is to them that we all have a duty of care.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Tim Loughton, Mr. Andrew Lansley, Ms Meg Munn, Kevin Brennan, Miss Julie Kirkbride, Jonathan Shaw, Mr. Julian Brazier, Miss Anne McIntosh, Mr. Jonathan Djanogly, Mr. Robert Walter, Mr. Robert Syms and Mrs. Eleanor Laing.

Registration Of Private Foster Carers And Child Protection

Tim Loughton accordingly presented a Bill to require the registration of private foster carers; to institute procedures for identifying and monitoring children arriving in the United Kingdom unaccompanied by adults with parental responsibility and make provision for their welfare; and to amend the law with regard to joint enterprise when prosecuting carers responsible for the death of children in their care; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 4 July, and to be printed [Bill 80].

Community Care (Delayed Discharges Etc) Bill (Programme) (No 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002],

That the following provisions shall apply to the Community Care (Delayed Discharges Etc.) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 28th November 2002—

Consideration Of Lords Amendments

  • 1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be completed at the moment of interruption on the day on which they commence.
  • 2. Those proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and each part of those proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time shown in the second column.
  • TABLE

    Lords Amendments

    Time for conclusion of proceedings

    Nos. 1 to 3, 5, 47, 4, 10 to 13, 21, 7, 8 and 39.Three and a half hours before the moment of interruption.
    Nos. 6, 9, 14 to 16, 18, 23, 17, 19, 40, 42 and 44 to 46.Two hours before the moment of interruption.
    Nos. 24, 25, 22, 26 to 28, 33, 43, 34, 35, 41, 20, 32, 29 to 31 and 36 to 38.The moment of interruption.

    Subsequent Stages

  • 3. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question put.
  • 4. Proceedings on any further Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Mr. Woolas.]
  • Question agreed to.

    Orders Of The Day

    Community Care (Delayed Discharges Etc) Bill

    Lords amendments considered.

    Clause 1

    Meaning Of "Nhs Body" And "Qualifying Hospital Patient"

    Lords amendment: No. 1.

    1.26 pm

    I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 2 and the Government motion to disagree thereto and Lords amendment No. 3.

    In welcoming the Bill back from the other place, I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the work of my noble Friend Lord Hunt in taking the Bill through the Lords. He was a good and able colleague, who will be missed by me and by many people who are interested in this sector.

    Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are technical amendments, which are necessary to provide clarification that the Bill does not apply to any person who is ordinarily resident outside England and Wales. They do not affect the substance of the Bill in any way, but simply serve to avoid any misunderstanding in the future about the patients to whom the Bill is intended to apply. I therefore hope that hon. Members will join me in supporting them.

    We disagree with the Lords in their amendment No. 2. The amendment would specifically exclude patients with a mental health condition from the Bill's provisions. The intention of the Bill is that payment responsibility should rest with the body that has responsibility for providing for the needs of a patient, to ensure that the patient receives the right care, in the right place and at the right time. It would establish a system of incentives to ensure the appropriate delivery of care.

    The Government's intention is to use the regulations to exclude mental health care from the scope of the Bill, and later to extend the provisions of the Bill to other types of care where there are delays. We have chosen to take a pragmatic approach, as we do not want to overload local partnerships with preparing for implementation across the system.

    It is not justified, however, to prevent the possibility of those provisions being extended to cover mental health. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Human Rights was concerned that the provisions of the Bill should not exclude patients with mental health problems, as that could be seen as discrimination because the nature of the patient's condition was mental rather than physical. However, we will make the decision to extend the scope of the Bill after a full and proper examination of the needs of mental health patients and of incentives in the mental health sector as a whole.

    The Department has received representations from many mental health professionals who are concerned that their patients should be included in these provisions as soon as possible, to benefit from the more timely provision of services that should result. For example, an e-mail from a consultant psychiatrist for older people puts it clearly:
    "Many of my patients are waiting months for placement in appropriate long term care; waiting on an acute ward with acutely ill, depressed or confused patients is very detrimental to their health. They are just as disadvantaged as any other older patient which this Bill seeks to benefit".
    I recognise that concern. Surely patients with mental health problems deserve the opportunity to ensure, as the Bill will for other patients, that they receive that care when they need it.

    1.30 pm

    If the Bill is successful—I am confident that it will be—in continuing to reduce patient waits for community care services so that patients can be safely discharged from hospital, I cannot understand how excluding mental health patients from the system can be justified. The right course of action is to monitor the effect of reimbursement on the acute sector and then, if appropriate, make a decision to include the mental health sector in the light of evidence. If we were to exclude that sector now, we would fail to recognise the very important benefits that the Bill could bring, and that could be discriminatory; so I hope that my colleagues and other hon. Members will disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    I wish to speak to Lords amendment No. 2. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends and others will not share the Government's view that they should disagree with the other place in that amendment, because its purpose is to exclude mental health patients from these provisions. Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, we believe that there is a separate problem with mental health patients, as opposed to acute patients, partly because of the historic situation in the national health service until about a decade ago.

    I believe that—this is becoming a bit of a cliché—mental health was a Cinderella service until about a decade ago, regardless of which Government were in power. If a Government—again, regardless of their political complexion—needed to make savings or had financial constraints on health spending for other reasons, it was too easy to sweep a range of services under the carpet, and mental health services suffered most. In addition, there was—sadly, there still is—a problem with the general attitude of this country's population.

    Some people think that there is something odd or unacceptable about mental health problems, so people suffering from such problems do not receive the same consideration and concern from friends and even family as other patients. That prejudice has continued despite, to be fair, the efforts of this Government and those of John Major's Government to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness and to bolster the health service provision for those with mental illness with genuine increases in funding and focusing attention on improving and enhancing mental health care. There is still, however, a fundamental difference—whether it is right or wrong is another matter—between mental health patients and acute patients, and the Bill should reflect that fact of life, whether one likes it or not.

    Of course, over-extended stays in psychiatric wards are a problem. For example, a recent survey in acute psychiatric wards, conducted by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, concluded that hospital care was non-therapeutic, but there are times when hospital admissions cannot be avoided. For example, when patients are so ill that they are incapable of looking after themselves, hospitals provide the only appropriate care for them. However, mental health care is in many ways very different from acute care, so different approaches are needed.

    Given those unique mental health considerations, if legal duties are imposed under the Bill to compel one part of the sector, in effect, to penalise the others, that could put at risk especially vulnerable patients suffering from mental health problems. In addition, there is a shortage of capacity in hospitals, other supported accommodation, rehabilitation services and 24-hour staffed beds in inner cities. As a result, to require local authorities to provide care quickly in those circumstances is unrealistic and unfair, and it could be dangerous in certain conditions.

    Instead of trying to introduce some, frankly spurious, distinctions between mental health and other aspects of the health service, will the hon. Gentleman direct his remarks to the question of the right patients? Do not people with mental health problems have exactly the same right as anyone else to live in the community and receive provision there?

    I find the hon. Gentleman's intervention slightly contradictory and complex, but I agree with the last part of what he says. No one wants people to be kept in hospital when they do not need to be there, and all of us want each patient to receive the most appropriate care—whether, in the case of the elderly, in their own homes with a domiciliary care package, or in residential care homes. We would agree on that. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, particularly given some of his statements in recent days, I resent his use of the word "spurious" because the argument is not spurious, and I hope that the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, will back me up.

    It is not exactly a secret that I am not the Bill's biggest fan, but I am trying to understand how Lords amendment No. 2 would work in practice, and I have not been assisted so far by the contribution of the hon. Gentleman who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench. What is meant by the phrase "a person receiving mental health services"? That seems to be such a wide-ranging definition, and it could include huge numbers of people who are on antidepressants from a general practitioner. Is the hon. Gentleman specifically focusing on individuals in psychiatric beds in acute hospitals? Is that the purpose of his argument?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I apologise if I am being obscure in certain areas, but, yes, the fundamental basis of my argument is that I believe—this is the intention of Lords amendment No. 2—that those people who are, in effect, defined as receiving treatment in hospital psychiatric beds should be exempt from the Bill. The bottom line is that I do not want the pressure that the Bill will put on hospital discharges to be put on those patients because of the nature of their illness and treatment, and the Bill should recognise the difference between mental health treatment and acute treatment. I know what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is interesting that the Minister in the other place, the late Lord Hunt—

    The Whip is absolutely right. Lord Hunt is not dead, but he is politically dead to such an extent that the Deputy Prime Minister did not recognise that he was a human being or that he had been a member of the Administration, despite the fact that he had been for almost six years. He is politically dead, so the word "late" was probably justified in that context.

    My confusion about the hon. Gentleman's proposal arises because he talks in a broad and categorical way about patients who are in beds in psychiatric hospitals, but even that does not bring the definition down to a level that I find comprehensible. People who suffer from mental illnesses may need a bed in a secure psychiatric hospital for a comparatively short time, but others will need such a bed for much longer. There are as many variations among the extreme episodes endured by people who suffer from mental illnesses as there are in any other field of medicine. The proposal is simply not clear.

    The hon. Lady is entitled to her view. Her point that the time spent in a hospital bed by an individual suffering from mental health or acute health problems will vary depending on individual circumstances is right. The point that I am trying to make is that the situation is different for mental health, and we do not want to impede the treatment and future appropriate care of individuals suffering from mental health by putting them under the umbrella of the Bill and placing additional pressures on them.

    I shall not, because I want to make progress.

    The answer is to exclude mental health patients from the Bill in the same way as other groups of people will be excluded from its ambit, although the Government have the power to include them if they are so minded. Excluding mental health patients is the right way to proceed because of the nature of mental illness and its historic position in the NHS until about a decade ago. The group could be included in the future, but it should not be included at the moment. That is why I hope that the House will agree with the Lords amendment and disagree with the Government's motion.

    I shall simply respond to the hon. Gentleman's comments. I listened carefully as he supported the Lords amendment, but his arguments do not seem to relate to its wording. His comments were very specific. He clearly implied that he was focusing on the circumstances of individuals who are in acute psychiatric beds and—to use his words—suffering from mental health. We all have mental health, although we do not necessarily suffer from it. The phrase is "suffering from mental illness".

    The amendment is more wide ranging than the specific matter on which the hon. Gentleman focused. Despite my personal opposition to the Bill, I cannot understand how the Government could honestly accept the amendment, because it is badly drafted and so wide ranging that it could cover any number of individuals, which I do not believe is the hon. Gentleman's intention.

    1.45 pm

    Other Lords amendments would improve the Bill, although I am not necessarily convinced that they would be a positive step toward addressing delayed discharges. Indeed, the Government might concede that on occasions. The hon. Gentleman's arguments are extremely thin and the Government could not genuinely accept such a wide-ranging amendment.

    I shall be much more generous to the h on. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) than my esteemed and hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), because the hon. Gentleman made a good attempt at proposing something that is basically unacceptable. I do not believe that his remarks showed a total commitment to the amendment.

    The Lords amendment is appalling and should be dismissed out of hand. We should question what the other place was doing when it was tabled. It would be quite wrong specifically to exclude mental health services from the range of services that will be included—before very long, I hope—in the provisions of this first-class Bill. I recently visited Ridge Lea hospital, which is my local hospital in Lancaster, and I met people who had been living on the locked Lonsdale ward for many years. The patients and the people who care for them expressed enormous concerns about the difficulties entailed in assisting patients to move on to appropriate community services. Difficulties are encountered when liaising with social security services. It is extraordinarily difficult to ensure that the patients have appropriate places to live in the community and that appropriate support services are available.

    Some of those people lived in locked circumstances with restricted liberty. It is outrageous, and a matter of enormous worry, that people live in such circumstances for longer than their acute mental health needs require. If appropriate provisions were available in the community, they could move there with their liberties assured. That is a fundamental human rights issue. I have no doubt that the Bill is not a universal panacea. We need considerable investment in, and new legislation for, mental health services. However, the provisions will be an enormous help for such people by ensuring that agencies are made well aware of the need to work closely together to ensure that services are available.

    I am slightly disappointed that mental health will not be one of the services to which the provisions will apply immediately. I urge hon. Members to reject the amendment, but I also urge my hon. Friend the Minister to assure me that the Government will move quickly to ensure that mental health services are included.

    I also have concerns about the amendment. The Opposition say that mental illness services are a Cinderella service and that they are anxious that they are improved. I am perfectly prepared to accept that that is an honourable and justifiable position to take. The Government have done much to bring services for mentally ill patients out of the shadows and into the light, but I am sure that they would not want anyone to believe that the services are in full sunshine as yet. However, great improvements have been made.

    I am sure that, with the best will in the world, the Opposition want to ensure that mentally ill people receive treatment but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) pointed out, their amendment would lead to seemingly permanent incarceration behind locked doors. Such a provision would act as an active deterrent to improving mental health services for everyone.

    I have some questions for my hon. Friend the Minister. I have concerns about the definition of services that will be provided only to someone who is normally—if that is the correct word—resident in England and Wales. My concerns stem from a case in my constituency in which the mother of a family in my constituency was resident in Northern Ireland. She visited the family in my constituency, but was taken ill. She received excellent treatment from the national health service, but the family then decided that, because she lived alone in Northern Ireland, she should come to live with them. Does the provision mean that my constituents' mother will be excluded from a proper care package that is put in place by my local authority? What does "resident" mean in that context?

    When my constituents raised this case, I was concerned because people from all over the world reside in my constituency. They have the right to live in this country and they have lived here for a considerable time. They pay their taxes and are not a drain on the state. If one of their elderly relatives should visit and the same situation were replicated, would that mean that the citizens of the United Kingdom whose parents come from a country other than England or Wales would not receive proper care or would not be able to patch into the national health services that are open to the rest of the United Kingdom's citizens? Will my hon. Friend clarify the position?

    I wish to support amendment No. 2, and I shall argue that it deserves particular consideration.

    I accept the Minister's argument that no one in the House wishes to stigmatise mental health patients or to treat them as a completely separate group. However, we are considering an imperfect Bill that deals with particularly vulnerable groups of people, such as mental health patients, who, on occasions, are not able to articulate their own needs. Therefore, particular care should be taken when they are discharged from hospital.

    I hope that the amendment will remain in the Bill. Mentally ill people and other vulnerable groups should not be among the patients for whom a charge is made.

    Surely the point about the process is that the patient is deemed able to be discharged at the appropriate time. Therefore, the decision that it is right for the patient to move on to more appropriate care is taken by the health care professionals who are charged with taking care of the patient's mental health. By agreeing to the amendment, we would be going against the advice of the professionals who have that responsibility.

    I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I am interested to hear that she perceives this to be a very much one-sided decision process. The reason Opposition Members are concerned about the Bill and its references to vulnerable patients is that it will speed up the process by which particularly vulnerable people are removed to the exclusion of assistance from other carers and expert advocates.

    Does the hon. Lady agree that the flaw in the logic of the intervention of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) is that, at the moment, the Government have exempted other groups from the Bill even though they may bring those groups within the Bill's ambit at a later stage?

    A further flaw results from the fact that, as the Minister said, the Government have taken a pragmatic approach to mental health patients. For the time being anyway, they have exempted them. If the charge of stigmatisation applies, it applies to that pragmatic approach.

    I am concerned that because of the different procedures for mental health and acute discharges and because of the differences in working across health and social services, the onward journey of services users will not be facilitated by the Bill. Under the draft regulations, the local authority would not be made liable if the patient was waiting for an NHS or another community service, such as psychiatric or mental health care provision, after the care assessment, but found that service unavailable because of the lack of social care provision. The Minister and the Government cannot have it all ways. If it is now right to exempt mental health patients, it must be right at a later date unless we can be absolutely sure that all the necessary provision is available.

    My worry is that these debates increasingly tend to consider segments of care. We put people into compartments, and that is where they remain. I intervened on the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) because I believe the Lords amendment to be flawed. For example, an elderly patient could be initially admitted to a psychiatric bed before being put into an elderly care bed in an acute hospital as they get ready for discharge. Is that person a mental health patient or not?

    As my hon. Friend suggests, Alzheimer's and a whole range of conditions lead to people being moved from an acute psychiatric environment in a general hospital to a psychogeriatric situation or to an acute ward. At what stage is someone a mental health patient? It is inconceivable that anyone could genuinely operate the Bill if it contained this amendment.

    I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, but the Minister has accepted that there is a problem. She has decided that there will be an exemption for mental health services and I presume that she, like the rest of us, has read the relevant section of the amendment. The arguments that have been made could be given credibility, but it would not take much more precision for the amendment to make it clear in line 10 of clause 1 that those receiving mental health services are those

    "accommodated at—
  • (a) a health service hospital; or
  • (b) an independent hospital in pursuance of arrangements made by an NHS body".
  • The definitions already exist, and it would not need much further clarification to specify which group of particularly vulnerable patients would be affected. Again, I would add other groups of vulnerable patients—those who are not able to articulate their needs and who would require additional support in the arrangements for their discharge.

    2 pm

    The Government's national services framework for mental health identifies the lack of capacity in community mental health services, not inefficiencies in social services departments, as the key cause of delayed discharges for psychiatric patients. That will not disappear just because the Bill causes fines to be levied. There will be a tendency to rush assessments of psychiatric patients' fitness for discharge, which entails a complex package of considerations. Patients must be assessed in terms of whether they will self-harm, whether they are a risk to others, and whether they will have appropriate accommodation. It is rare that that can be worked through in a three-day period, even if all the various services are in place.

    There is no provision in the Bill for specialist advocates and for carers to take part in the discharge planning process. There is a risk that pressure to reduce prolonged hospital admissions will concentrate resources on the acute sector at the expense of community care provision. Hard-pressed councils will tend to divert resources into services that avoid penalties, instead of the longer-term preventive work that would reduce the need for acute admissions. There is a further danger that patients discharged earlier than they should be will be given inappropriate medication to control symptoms, rather than a range of therapeutic interventions, because of inappropriate accommodation and a lack of essential support services.

    There is a basic flaw in the Government's argument that they need to make interim provision now, but are not prepared to write that into the Bill for the longer term for particularly vulnerable groups of patients.

    I shall contribute briefly, as some of the related issues will arise more naturally later in the Bill's consideration today. There were two major errors in the approach adopted by Members on the Government Benches. One was a gross caricature of what their lordships we re trying to achieve by the amendment. The other was the notion that the Bill would be of unalloyed benefit to the average patient. It is precisely because the Bill still is not patient centred that the issue arises.

    The most powerful argument to be deployed in favour of the exclusion, as the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) said, is the extent to which the concerns of patients and their carers are taken into account. Perhaps it is a matter of first thoughts are best, which is clearly the Government's view at present. At an earlier stage of the Bill's progress, we had some very good briefing from organisations such as the Alzheimer's Society about patients suffering from dementia and more specifically Alzheimer's, and so on. Surely patients with mental health problems, particularly severe mental health problems, will be the most vulnerable category.

    Even if there are proper arrangements for the discharge of such patients and proper consultation—we shall deal with that in more detail later—will they be able to express a view, let alone an informed view? Will the views of their carers be taken into account on their behalf? For that central reason, the official Opposition have always opposed the Bill. There are many reasons for opposing it—not least, the fact that it will not work—but the most human reason for opposing it is that it ignores the needs and wishes of individual patients. That is true in spades in respect of those with mental health problems. That is the overwhelming argument for the amendment.

    I shall not dwell on the point as we have a great deal of progress to make. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who was right to argue that we should support the Lords amendment.

    I shall begin by responding to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) with respect to amendments Nos. 1 and 3 and the case that she described. Obviously, I do not know the details of the case, but the principle of defining ordinary residence is intended to make it clear which authorities are responsible for the necessary community care provision. The case does not have to come within the ambit of the Bill for social services to have that responsibility. Anybody who establishes ordinary residence will be within the provisions of the Bill. That is established on the facts of the case, and can sometimes be established virtually immediately. Although that is not very clear, the answer probably is that it depends. There would not be an automatic bar against somebody who had come from abroad.

    The main point of contention was Lords amendment No. 2. Let us be clear what the Lords are proposing. It is not that there might be particular issues that make the way in which we respond to patients with mental health problems different from the way in which we respond to other patients in acute care. It is that in perpetuity we should exclude from any benefits that might come from the Bill those people with mental health problems.

    I agree with the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) that during the 1980s and 1990s our mental health services were underfunded and poor.

    I am saddened that the Minister is taking that tack. Given of the importance of the issue of mental health, I deliberately tried not to make my comments party political. I said, and it is a recognised fact, that over the past decade, under the last Conservative Government and under this Government, there has been a greater concentration of attention on mental health and inputting of resources for it. It saddens me if the Minister is trying to make political points, saying that the Conservatives did nothing and the present Government have done everything.

    The hon. Gentleman can stand or fall on the record of the Government of which he was a member. The first national service framework introduced by the Labour Government tackled the issue of mental health services, in particular linking considerable new investment to attempts to find new ways of addressing some of the problems identified by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) in relation to capacity, and to ensuring that services are available in the community to address the needs of people with mental health problems who would be better cared for in the community.

    With the development of assertive outreach teams, crisis resolution teams and early intervention teams, we see that they have an impact on the number of people who need to be admitted or to stay for longer periods in inpatient provision. It is right that we need to expand capacity and reform the way in which we offer mental health services, to make sure that provision in the community is available. Despite improved investment—£40 million worth of capital over this year and last year—and guidance leading to improved acute inpatient mental health services, there are people for whom inpatient mental health care is not appropriate and who do not want it.

    I find it hard to understand why the Lords and the Opposition, in their support for the amendment, believe that we should for ever exclude mental health patients from the benefits of the legislation. Although I was shocked to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) is not the biggest fan of the Bill in the House, both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who, as a fan of the Bill, pressed me to bring mental health within the ambit of the Bill more quickly, recognise the illogicality of for ever putting mental health outside the legislation.

    The hon. Member for West Chelmsford also made the point that those with mental health problems have suffered in the past from stigma, which has affected services. I agree, but I fail to see how ensuring that it would never be possible for those with mental health problems to come within the Bill's ambit helps to tackle that stigma. It does not.

    I do not dispute that different circumstances will apply to people with mental health problems. Of course they will, which is why we have taken the decision that the first group that we should address through the legislation are those in acute hospital care. Different considerations will apply to how we bring in those with mental health problems. As I suggested earlier, we will decide whether to extend the Bill's scope after a full and proper examination of the needs of mental health patients and the incentives in the mental health sector.

    For example, we would want to consider whether, as happens in Sweden, the level of reimbursement or the minimum compliance period should be altered to reflect any additional difficulties that might arise when assessing mental health patients or putting services in place. We would want to recognise that quite often—for example, housing services are important to those with mental health problems.

    It is not beyond the wit of the House to ensure that we would be able to recognise those specific circumstances in the future and to design the system to take those on board, and to ensure that those with mental health problems have the opportunity, when it is successful, to benefit from the Bill.

    Lord's amendment No. 2 would ensure that that was never possible and I hope that, on that basis, hon. Members will disagree with it.

    Lords amendment agreed to.

    Lords amendment: No. 2.

    Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.— [Jacqui Smith.]

    The House divided: Ayes 320, Noes 178.

    Division No. 119]

    [2:12 pm

    AYES

    Abbott, Ms DianeBest, Harold
    Adams, Irene (Paisley N)Betts, Clive
    Ainger, NickBlackman, Liz
    Alexander, DouglasBlizzard, Bob
    Allen, GrahamBorrow, David
    Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
    Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
    Bradshaw, Ben
    Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryBrennan, Kevin
    Atherton, Ms CandyBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
    Austin, JohnBryant, Chris
    Bailey, AdrianBuck, Ms Karen
    Baird, VeraBurden, Richard
    Barnes, HarryBurgon, Colin
    Beckett, rh MargaretBurnham, Andy
    Begg, Miss AnneByers, rh Stephen
    Benn, HilaryCaborn, rh Richard
    Bennett, AndrewCairns, David
    Benton, Joe (Bootle)Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
    Berry, RogerCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

    Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gerrard, Neil
    Casale, RogerGilroy, Linda
    Caton, MartinGodsiff, Roger
    Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)Goggins, Paul
    Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
    Chaytor, DavidGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
    Clapham, MichaelGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
    Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)Hain, rh Peter
    Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
    Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
    Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
    Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
    Clelland, DavidHanson, David
    Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
    Coaker, VernonHavard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
    Coffey, Ms Ann
    Cohen, HarryHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
    Coleman, IainHepburn, Stephen
    Colman, TonyHeppell, John
    Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
    Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)Heyes, David
    Corbyn, JeremyHill, Keith (Streatham)
    Corston, JeanHinchliffe, David
    Cousins, JimHoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
    Cox, Tom (Tooting)Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
    Cranston, RossHoon, rh Geoffrey
    Crausby, DavidHope, Phil (Corby)
    Cruddas, JonHopkins, Kelvin
    Cryer, Ann (Keighley)Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
    Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
    Cummings, JohnHowells, Dr. Kim
    Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
    Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
    Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
    Dalyell, TamHumble, Mrs Joan
    Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
    David, WayneHutton, rh John
    Davidson, IanIddon, Dr. Brian
    Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)Illsley, Eric
    Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
    Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
    Dawson, HiltonJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
    Dean, Mrs JanetJamieson, David
    Dhanda, ParmjitJenkins, Brian
    Dismore, AndrewJohnson, Alan (Hull W)
    Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
    Dobson, rh Frank
    Donohoe, Brian H.Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
    Doran, FrankJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
    Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
    Drew, David (Stroud)Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
    Drown, Ms JuliaJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
    Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethJoyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
    Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Kaufman, rh Gerald
    Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Keeble, Ms Sally
    Edwards, HuwKeen, Alan (Feltham)
    Ellord, CliveKemp, Fraser
    Ellman, Mrs LouiseKidney, David
    Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)Kilfoyle, Peter
    Etherington, BillKing, Andy (Rugby)
    Farrelly, PaulKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
    Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
    Fisher, MarkKnight, Jim (S Dorset)
    Fitzpatrick, JimKumar, Dr. Ashok
    Fitzsimons, Mrs LornaLadyman, Dr. Stephen
    Flint, CarolineLammy, David
    Flynn, Paul (Newport W)Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
    Foster, rh DerekLaxton, Bob (Derby N)
    Foster, Michael (Worcester)Lazarowicz, Mark
    Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)Lepper, David
    Leslie, Christopher
    Foulkes, rh GeorgeLevitt, Tom (High Peak)
    Francis, Dr. HywelLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
    Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
    Gardiner, BarryLiddell, rh Mrs Helen
    George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)Linton, Martin

    Love, AndrewSalter, Martin
    Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)Sarwar, Mohammad
    Luke, Iain (Dundee E)Savidge, Malcolm
    Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)Sawford, Phil
    McAvoy, ThomasSedgemore, Brian
    McCabe, StephenShaw, Jonathan
    McCafferty, ChrisSheridan, Jim
    MacDonald, CalumShipley, Ms Debra
    McDonnell, JohnSimon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
    MacDougall, JohnSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
    McFall, JohnSingh, Marsha
    McGuire, Mrs AnneSmith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
    McIsaac, Shona
    McKechin, AnnSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
    McKenna, RosemarySmith, John (Glamorgan)
    Mackinlay, AndrewSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
    McNulty, TonySoley, Clive
    MacShane, DenisSouthworth, Helen
    McWalter, TonySquire, Rachel
    Mahon, Mrs AliceSteinberg, Gerry
    Mallaber, JudyStevenson, George
    Mandelson, rh PeterStewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
    Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
    Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
    Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Stinchcombe, Paul
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Stringer, Graham
    Martlew, EricStuart, Ms Gisela
    Merron, GillianTami, Mark (Alyn)
    Milburn, rh AlanTaylor, Dari (Stockton S)
    Miliband, DavidTaylor, David (NW Leics)
    Miller, AndrewThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
    Moffatt, LauraThomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
    Mole, ChrisTimms, Stephen
    Moran, MargaretTipping, Paddy
    Morgan, JulieTodd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
    Morris, rh EstelleTouhig, Don (Islwyn)
    Mountford, KaliTrickett, Jon
    Mudie, GeorgeTruswell, Paul
    Mullin, ChrisTurner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
    Munn, Ms Meg
    Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
    Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
    Naysmith, Dr. DougTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
    Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
    0 Brien, Mike (N Warks)Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
    Organ, DianaVaz, Keith (Leicester E)
    Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)Vis, Dr. Rudi
    Owen, AlbertWalley, Ms Joan
    Palmer, Dr. NickWard, Claire
    Perham, LindaWareing, Robert N.
    Picking, Anne
    Pickthall, ColinWatson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
    Pike, Peter (Burnley)Watts, David
    Plaskitt, JamesWhite, Brian
    Pollard, KerryWhitehead, Dr. Alan
    Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)Wicks, Malcolm
    Pound, Stephen
    Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
    Williams, Betty (Conwy)
    Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Wills, Michael
    Prosser, GwynWinnick, David
    Purchase, KenWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
    Purnell, James
    Quinn, LawrieWood, Mike (Batley)
    Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)Woodward, Shaun
    Reed, Andy (Loughborough)Woolas, Phil
    Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)Worthington, Tony
    Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
    Roche, Mrs Barbara
    Rooney, TerryWright, David (Telford)
    Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Wright, Tony (Cannock)
    Roy, Frank (Motherwell)Wyatt, Derek
    Ruane, Chris
    Ruddock, Joan

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)

    Charlotte Atkins and

    Joan Ryan

    NOES

    Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Hancock, Mike
    Amess, DavidHarris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
    Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
    Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hawkins, Nick
    Bacon, RichardHayes, John (S Holland)
    Baker, NormanHeald, Oliver
    Barker, GregoryHeath, David
    Baron, John (Billericay)Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
    Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)Hermon, Lady
    Bellingham, HenryHoban, Mark (Fareham)
    Bercow, JohnHogg, rh Douglas
    Beresford, Sir PaulHoram, John (Orpington)
    Blunt, CrispinHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
    Boswell, TimHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
    Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Jack, rh Michael
    Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)Jenkin, Bernard
    Johnson, Boris (Henley)
    Brady, GrahamKennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
    Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
    Brazier, JulianKey, Robert (Salisbury)
    Breed, ColinKirkbride, Miss Julie
    Brooke, Mrs Annette LKirkwood, Sir Archy
    Browning, Mrs AngelaKnight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
    Bruce, MalcolmLaing, Mrs Eleanor
    Burnett, JohnLait, Mrs Jacqui
    Burns, SimonLamb, Norman
    Burnside, DavidLaws, David (Yeovil)
    Burstow, PaulLewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
    Calton, Mrs PatsyLiddell-Grainger, Ian
    Cameron, DavidLidington, David
    Carmichael, AlistairLilley, rh Peter
    Cash, WilliamLlwyd, Elfyn
    Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Loughton, Tim
    Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
    Chidgey, DavidMcIntosh, Miss Anne
    Chope, ChristopherMackay, rh Andrew
    Clappison, JamesMaclean, rh David
    Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMcLoughlin, Patrick
    Cormack, Sir PatrickMalins, Humfrey
    Cran, James (Beverley)Maples, John
    Curry, rh DavidMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
    Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
    Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
    Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)May, Mrs Theresa
    Mercer, Patrick
    Djanogly, JonathanMitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
    Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
    Dorrell, rh StephenMoore, Michael
    Doughty, SueMurrison, Dr. Andrew
    Duncan Smith, rh IainOaten, Mark (Winchester)
    Evans, NigelO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
    Fabricant, MichaelÖpik, Lembit
    Fallon, MichaelOsborne, George (Tatton)
    Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)Ottaway, Richard
    Page, Richard
    Flight, HowardPaice, James
    Flook, AdrianPaterson, Owen
    Forth, rh EricPickles, Eric
    Fox, Dr. LiamPrice, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
    Francois, Mark
    Gale, Roger (N Thanet)Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
    Garnier, EdwardPugh, Dr. John
    George, Andrew (St. Ives)Randall, John
    Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)Redwood, rh John
    Gillan, Mrs CherylReid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
    Goodman, PaulRobathan, Andrew
    Gray, James (N Wilts)Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
    Grayling, ChrisRobinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
    Green, Damian (Ashford)Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
    Green, Matthew (Ludlow)Roe, Mrs Marion
    Grieve, DominicRosindell, Andrew
    Gummer, rh JohnRuffley, David
    Hague, rh WilliamRussell, Bob (Colchester)
    Hammond, PhilipSanders, Adrian

    Sayeed, JonathanTrimble, rh David
    Selous, AndrewTurner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
    Shephard, rh Mrs GillianTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
    Simmonds, MarkTyrie, Andrew
    Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)Viggers, Peter
    Waterson, Nigel
    Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)Watkinson, Angela
    Spelman, Mrs CarolineWebb, Steve (Northavon)
    Spicer, Sir MichaelWiggin, Bill
    Spink, Bob (Castle Point)Wilkinson, John
    Stanley, rh Sir JohnWilletts, David
    Steen, AnthonyWilliams, Roger (Brecon)
    Streeter, GaryWillis, Phil
    Stunell, AndrewWinterton, Ann (Congleton)
    Swayne, DesmondWinterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
    Taylor, Ian (Esher)
    Taylor, John (Solihull)Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
    Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Young, rh Sir George
    Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)Younger-Ross, Richard
    Taylor, Sir Teddy
    Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Tonge, Dr. Jenny

    Mr. Robert Syms and

    Tredinnick, David

    Hugh Robertson

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Lords amendment disagreed to.

    Lords amendment No. 3 agreed to.

    Clause 2

    Notice Of Patient's Possible Need For Community Care Services

    Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 2, line 5, after "hospital" insert "after 1st April 2004".

    I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 47 and the Government motion to disagree.

    Lords amendment No. 5 would delay for a year until April 2004 the implementation of the policy outlined in the Bill. When we announced the policy in April 2002, we were keen to implement it by April this year so that older people could benefit as quickly as possible from the improvements in services and procedures that we firmly believe the Bill will bring. They include: focus on the individual, and ensuring that people get the right care at the right time and in the right place; the introduction of incentives to invest in alternatives in the community so that older people are not trapped in hospital when they would be better treated outside; and a clear framework for partnership between health and social care locally.

    2.30 pm

    We know from the implementation team that we have established that many areas have made significant achievements since we announced the policies. The Bill has led to an unprecedented wave of activity around delayed discharge with local authority and NHS partners discussing shared problems and finding common solutions. Several areas have initiated reviews of whole systems to consider discharge processes and community service capacity so that they are well prepared for reimbursement.

    Other areas have planned staff increases or co-location to speed up assessment and improve discharge planning. The Bill can therefore be considered a success already because people know that if they do not make efforts to improve discharge procedures and put services in place, they cannot benefit from the extra funding that we are transferring from the NHS. They will have to reimburse the NHS.

    Before the Minister embarks on a spinning fantasy, will she clarify the reason for her use in Committee and now of words such as "incentives", "bonuses" and "improvements", when the Secretary of State describes the penalties under the Bill as "fines"? Indeed, that is what they are.

    Despite having been involved with the Bill for a long time, the hon. Gentleman fails to understand the principle that payment follows responsibility. His failure to understand is not my fault. When responsibility for providing services based on the individual's needs shifts from the NHS to social care, so should responsibility for payment.

    The Bill can already be considered a success and we are worried that amendment No. 5 in particular puts that at risk. One social services manager stated that in the past five years he had never witnessed so much commitment to reducing delays in the NHS and social care. That is not an isolated remark. People who attended a recent conference, which our change agents team ran, stated that, far from wrecking partnership—Conservative Members have sometimes alleged that—the pressure to improve discharge that the Bill generates led staff from the NHS and social services to discuss together, sometimes for the first time, plans to reduce delays in their local hospitals.

    There is a genuine risk that the benefits of that concentrated effort will be lost.

    I fear that the Minister risks creating a pervasive cynicism about the Bill—even more pervasive than that that has existed hitherto—unless she responds properly to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). If people incur a financial cost for doing something that they should not, or for failing to do something that they should, can the Minister think of a shorter or more accurate term for what they face than "fine"?

    A fine implies that someone is not supposed to be doing something. It is strange that the hon. Gentleman does not realise that we are considering putting right a position in which all the incentives in the system are for leasing people in hospital over a longer period because the NHS effectively pays for the needs of largely older people, responsibility for which should rest with social services departments.

    If the hon. Gentleman wants to argue for cost-shunting and shifting responsibility, he should do so. The Bill aims to put matters right.

    If the Minister will allow me, I will exercise my discretion over the language that I deploy. I would not settle for the rather down-market lexicon that she has in mind for me. If she will not use the word "fine", why does the Secretary of State continue to do that regularly?

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should ask the Secretary of State. My right hon, Friend and I share an understanding that at present—[Laughter.] We can laugh and banter about words, but Conservative Members should be ashamed of the underlying reason for the measure. In 1997, 6,800 people were inappropriately delayed in hospital. Our investment and reforms have reduced that number.