HC Deb 22 July 2002 vol 389 cc768-820

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

That at this day's sitting the Motion for the Adjournment in the name of Prime Minister may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Question agreed to.

Question again prosposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heppell.]

10 pm

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford)

Compared with other hon. Members, I shall keep my remarks brief, but they are relevant as the House is about to enter its long summer recess. It will come as no surprise that I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on the future of the Belfast agreement, if only to point out that the Government are deluding themselves with the pretence that it can survive in its present form. It is already fatally holed below the water line and will sink.

The Government need, therefore, to spend time over the summer considering the process of negotiating an alternative agreement that can command widespread support throughout the community from Unionists as well as nationalists. For as long as I can remember, the essential component for any constitutional proposal to win Government support was its ability to achieve cross-community support. Repeatedly, proposals proffered by Unionists were rejected by both Conservative and Labour Governments, because they did not enjoy nationalist support. In more recent times, the unspoken benchmark was that any proposal had to be capable of gaining Sinn Fein-IRA support.

Nobody would quibble with the need to have sufficient support for new institutions. No structure will have the necessary stability to last without the support of both sections of our people, but if this condition was an imperative when it was used to ensure that proposals had nationalist endorsement, it must be equally appropriate that any proposal has Unionist support.

The Belfast agreement does not have such Unionist support. Only a minority within Unionism, represented by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and half of his party, supports that republican agenda. The majority of Unionist votes cast in every election since the agreement was signed have been cast for candidates opposed to it. That is true of the last election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the European election and both the local government election last June and the general election. Indeed, eight out of the 11 Northern Ireland Unionists returned here were elected on an anti-agreement ticket.

While the Government would never dream, or dare, to run a proposal that did not have the support of a majority of nationalists, they are quite prepared to thumb their nose at the democratically expressed voice of Unionism. The policy is shortsighted because the Government cannot dodge the electorate for ever. If the policy of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is built upon the hope that the process will be bedded down by the passage of time, he has not been reading the collective mind of Unionism very well. There is more opposition to the agreement today than when it was first signed.

The Secretary of State and the leader of the Ulster Unionist party might choose to believe that the opposition is to the manner of the agreement's implementation, but those who operate at the grass roots know better. For my part, I am opposed to the agreement. I am opposed to what it has done in placing unreformed terrorist representatives at the heart of government; in setting up unaccountable all-Ireland institutions; and in releasing murderers on to our streets to re-engage in "what they do best". I am also totally opposed to how the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC has been destroyed under the remit the agreement set.

My opposition does not stem from the way in which the agreement has been implemented. It is being implemented in precisely the manner that I expected. Those Unionist leaders who now bemoan the way in which the agreement is operating only expose their own lack of political judgment and foresight. For trusting the IRA and being prepared to buy a reduction of terrorism at the cost of their heritage, future generations will curse them. Indeed, they will not have to wait for future generations. The truth is that the IRA always saw the agreement as a transitional process, whose purpose is to divest Northern Ireland of every shred of Britishness and Unionism, and convey it in a steady and relentless process towards a united Ireland.

During this period of transition, Unionists will have to stomach the elevation of murderers and their still active terrorist organisation. Every concession demanded by the IRA is granted and every wrongdoing is ignored. The House has forced on Northern Ireland standards and procedures that it would not have accepted in any constituency outside Northern Ireland. The evidence of the IRA's continuing terrorist involvement is too legion to list. Its enormity makes it all the more preposterous that the Government refuse to acknowledge that the IRA has broken its ceasefire. They immorally attempt to defend closing their eyes to IRA activity while still rewarding it with more concessions.

Later this week, the Prime Minister is scheduled to tell the House what he intends to do about the many and continued breaches of the IRA ceasefire. Sinn Fein-IRA still enjoys the fruits of the Belfast agreement without feeling obliged to conform to the rules of peace and democracy. My judgment tells me that the Prime Minister will refuse to take any action that punishes Sinn Fein-IRA for these terrorist activities and will merely, as the BBC put it at the weekend, show it the yellow card again.

The Government have lost their credibility and have no policy that is capable of delivering good government and providing stable political structures in Northern Ireland. The Government cannot deliver that goal without Unionism, and they cannot bring Unionism along with the present policy. Change is needed, and should not be resisted by any politician who believes in democracy. The Government might find democracy awkward and it might obstruct their carefully laid plans, but the duty of us all is to find a way through.

Without wishing to sound confrontational, the truth is that, like it or not, the time is not long off when the Government and the House will be faced with the reality that a renegotiation is unavoidable. The balance of the process will have to be redressed, to be capable of providing the one ingredient that is demonstrably absent and palpably needed, which is Unionist consent.

10.8 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

The hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) makes her case. I think that most people would rather have peace through the political process, or even a flawed agreement, rather than killing and no peace. Events in the middle east show what a terrible alternative there might be to the political process. We do not want to return to the bad old days in Northern Ireland.

Before the House rises for the summer recess, I want the House to consider the role of BP in Colombia. I shall quote from an article that appeared in Labour Left Briefing in March about "the latest capitalist misbehaviour". The article reads: BP's oil pipeline companies are refusing to pay compensation to 300 peasants in Colombia whose livelihoods have been ruined. The families were forced to abandon their land after two pipelines passing through their farms caused extensive environmental damage. The families now live in acute poverty in shanty towns in the city of Medellin. The Government have been involved in this issue; they met the legal representatives of the local farmers on 23 April this year. The Government's line has been that BP's role is a matter for the Colombian courts, but the Government have not been critical of BP, even though it has acted in clear breach of the Government's voluntary principles, which were launched in December 2000, after dialogue between the businesses that operate in Colombia and local non-governmental organisations.

Although that was a voluntary agreement, it stressed that oil and mining companies should assess the risks to human rights of their activities, including the use of private security firms. The Government said that their voluntary principles could produce real benefits on all sides, but they did not produce benefits to those farmers and their families in Colombia, and BP ignored them anyway, yet the Government are still not critical.

What about the court case that the Government put their trust in? Well, it is unbalanced—peasant farmers against one of the richest multinational companies in the world. The lives of those 300 farmers and their families have been devastated. Violence was used to get them out. Colombia is a violent country, as we know, and the fear must have exceeded the injustice that those people must have felt—it must have been enormous.

Let me add that the article in Labour Left Briefing also states: BP is the largest foreign investor Colombia, a country with the world's highest trade union murder rate. Ninety members of Colombia's oil workers' union (USO) have been murdered since 1988, six in the first three months of 2002. BP's drilling sites are militarised and the company refuses to meet the union or allow them to visit drilling sites. An army brigade is dedicated to defending oil infrastructure in Casanare, the region where BP operates, and has been implicated in extra-judicial killings. BP also employs a private security firm, Defence Systems Limited, a London-based company set up by former SAS members, now being investigated by the Colombian state prosecutor for allegedly training the Colombian police in lethal counter-insurgency tactics"— very much in breach of the voluntary agreement that the Government launched. The Government have been weak on that issue and, as I have said, they have not been critical of BP.

I shall give another example. I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary—he was then at the Foreign Office—and I sent him a copy of the 8 March 2002 edition of Middle East International. I pointed out that a leaked document from the Sudanese Government showed that a Canadian oil company, Talisman and Lundin Oil, had been directly involved in similar activity. The document said that fulfilling the request of the Canadian company, the armed forces will conduct cleaning-up operation in all villages". The article reported that

over 1,000 government forces swept through Ruweng county, killing scores of civilians and burning more than 6,000 homes—reportedly 60 per cent. of the total in the area. I protested, saying that the Government should protest to the Canadian Government about that. I have had a reply, but there has been no protest whatever from the Government, and we now know the reason: their own near complicity in washing their hands of BP's role in Colombia when human rights abuses take place there. The Government refused to protest to Canada because, presumably, the same sort of action was going on in Colombia, with a British company.

Globalisation is supposed to be about free and fairer trade, but if that includes oil companies bullying peasant farmers, such as those in Colombia or Sudan, public acquiescence in globalisation will be very severely damaged, and the Government should take that on board.

Those BP executives have shamed Britain by their actions in Colombia, and the Government are wrong to handle the issue with kid gloves and to turn a blind eye to such human rights abuses.

The so-called free press in this country is not doing its job either. The media have not properly reported what happened in Colombia. They should bring those executives to account and force them to apologise. Every now and then we see Japanese executives apologising on television when they have done something appallingly wrong and shamed Japan. They are forced to apologise publicly, and BP executives should be forced to do the same concerning their displacement of farmers in Colombia.

Anji Hunter, the Prime Minister's personal assistant, who went on to work in public relations for BP, is an honourable, decent woman, and she should not have to apologise for BP's shabby treatment of those farmers. Those executives have brought Britain into disrepute; they should apologise, and the Government should take a stronger stance on such human rights abuses.

10.16 pm
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The House will not be surprised to hear that I wish to raise an issue that I have raised before in the House—the future of the Royal Hospital, Haslar. I had hoped to spare the House this speech because after a massive demonstration—a rally and march of 22,000 people, parliamentary petitions and enormous public support in south Hampshire—it looked as though we were moving in the right direction.

After extensive consultation by the health authority, we won as a concession an accident treatment centre at the Royal Hospital to be manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. After the hospital was moved to the clinical management of the NHS on 1 April 2001, it looked as though plans were set for the future. Indeed, Haslar was one of the first hospitals in the country to be designated a diagnostic and treatment centre.

For the few colleagues who have not heard me speak on this subject before, I should give the background. The Royal Hospital, Haslar is the only military hospital in the United Kingdom, which is why it was necessary, after the decision in December 1998, for the Ministry of Defence to close it so that it could be moved to civilian control in 2001. It looked as though I might be able to save the House this speech. It looked as though we were set fair for progress because, after all, no Government would spend millions of pounds building up a hospital as a diagnostic and treatment centre only to close it in 2007, but I find, to my disbelief, that that is the current policy.

The new chief executive of the hospital's trust, Alan Bedford, whom I do not criticise personally, has said that he is considering the possible closure of the accident and treatment centre at night because the number of patients does not justify its being open. The hospital was apparently rather slow to apply for support from foreign doctors, nurses and paramedical staff to run the centre.

My response is that if that well-equipped centre is not being used widely, as we hoped it would be, surely it is up to the trust and those in the NHS who are responsible to advertise its facilities more widely, to instruct ambulance crews to take more patients there and to encourage local doctors to make their patients aware of it. The centre exists, and the fact that it is not being used is the fault not of patients who go elsewhere but of those who fail to advertise it properly.

It looked as though Haslar's future was good, with the clinical management under the control of the NHS, which meant that the defence medical services were able to use the facilities.

Colleagues present this evening know the importance to the armed forces of defence medical services. The fact is that in key faculties—general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, general medicine and anaesthetics—defence medical services are approximately two thirds, or even three quarters, short of the specialists they need. I believe that we have 26 anaesthetists rather than the 121 we need. That defence medical services can be improved by closing the only military hospital and instead opening facilities in Birmingham that are not much loved by defence medical services personnel beggars belief.

I felt that we were on the right course. If anyone thinks that I am angry about what has happened, they are wrong: I am very angry that the Government are continuing on their course. The accident treatment centre is under threat and it is planned to build up the diagnostic and treatment centre as a production line for orthopaedic and other surgery until 2007, and then to close it. How can a Government contemplate closing a hospital that has nine operating theatres, state of the art out-patient facilities, excellent telecommunications facilities, and high-technology imaging facilities, when the whole of the area in which it is situated knows that it is desperately needed?

Ms Drown

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Viggers

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me, but even though the debate will probably continue until about midnight, I am conscious that we are short of time and many colleagues still wish to speak.

Much has changed in the world of hospital planning since the original decision to close Haslar was made—originally, the closure was not to take place before 2002. There has been a vigorous debate on the issue of admitting all accident and emergency cases to district general hospitals, the consequences of which are congestion in those hospitals and often bed blocking when it is not possible to move people back to local hospitals. Daily, patients are taken by ambulance at speed to the district general hospital at Cosham, the Queen Alexandra hospital. There, they wait an average of four to six hours, and they are often then taken back by ambulance to Haslar because there are not the facilities to admit them to the Queen Alexandra hospital.

Some years ago, split-site working was not thought acceptable for doctors and nurses. There was a belief that all facilities should be concentrated in super-hospitals. However, there has since been a relaxation of views and now the feeling is very much that local hospitals—especially diagnostic and treatment centres that can provide a production line for surgical cases—provide excellent places in which to train doctors, nurses and other medical staff, and that split-site working is not at all unacceptable.

The concept of telemedicine has been gaining currency, and Haslar is a world leader in telemedicine, using its radio and television links to provide telemedical advice to UK civilian facilities. It is, moreover, the centre of the telemedicine world, so that patients, whether they are in Haslar or Sierra Leone, can benefit from Haslar advice.

It is admitted that defence medical services are in crisis. I submit, as I did last Thursday to the Secretary of State for Defence, that if we wait for a major crisis in defence medicine—for the armed forces to face a large number of casualties—before we act, we will be too late. The Secretaries of State for Defence and for Health should work together, provide some of that much-vaunted joined-up government, recognise that their plans to close Haslar are wrong, change course and retain Royal Hospital, Haslar within the national health service.

10.24 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

By definition, mine is not a winding-up speech because several colleagues have yet to speak, but I wanted to respond to some of the points that have been made before making my own contribution.

I recall during the last Adjournment debate, before the Whit recess, commenting that we had not had the pleasure of the company of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I assumed that that meant that the Royal Hospital Haslar had been reprieved, given a full new status and a fresh lease of life. Sadly, that is obviously not the case, and we wish the hon. Gentleman well in his continuing campaign.

Several themes have run through this evening's debate. We often raise individually matters of constituency concern that are echoed in other parts of the country. That is surely the proper role for Parliament. We are of course here as representatives of our constituency, but we are also here to try to ensure that issues of national interest that override constituency concerns receive the attention of the national Parliament. I wanted to spend some time trying to draw out some of those themes and to add to them from my point of view.

The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is not present at the moment, but we recognise from what he has said as well as from the media attention given to the city of Hull that the former ruling group has led it into considerable difficulties. No doubt the Government will be trying to assist him and his city to retrieve the situation.

A number of Members have referred to the local government settlement. It would be remiss of me if I did not put it on record that Cornwall would suffer if the options currently proposed were put into effect without dramatic reform. It is interesting to hear Members who represent constituencies in places such as Buckinghamshire and south-west Surrey complain that they have been short-changed. We in the more remote and peripheral parts of the United Kingdom think that it is we who have been short-changed. Other Members from all parties who are present would agree with that.

I was particularly struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) on empty homes. That problem is not exclusive to the major cities of the north; it can be found in many other parts of the country. From his description, it is obvious that his town has a deep-seated problem. It will be important to see whether the Deputy Prime Minister's proposals, which were put before the House last week, will address the problems of lack of take-up of accommodation and lack of investment in housing stock in areas such as the hon. Gentleman's—as well as my own. In my area, we have suffered from the Ministry of Defence deliberately keeping properties empty for long periods, and then from those properties not being made available to the local authority but being handed instead to an arm's-length private company that does not make them available for local needs.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) concern about the A303. I spent quite a lot of time in a traffic jam on that road while coming in this direction on Saturday. I was amazed to find that people seemed to be leaving Cornwall as well as going to it at this time of year. Why should anybody want to leave Cornwall, which is of course the most beautiful place in the UK to spend July or August?

Mr. Heath

They were going to Somerset to visit Camelot.

Mr. Tyler

Before my hon. Friend gets excited, it must be said that many more people were on the other carriageway heading west. Even so, I entirely endorse what he said about that particularly dangerous stretch of road. Any Government who put the issue of increasing the speed by which people can travel on the road on the same basis as a safety issue are clearly missing the point.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) made an important point not just about the Commonwealth games but about Britain's international reputation for attracting such a major sporting event and taking full advantage of it.

In my more responsible past before I fell into the deep trough of parliamentary representation, I was vice-chairman of a national park committee. I therefore very much share the view of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) that we must ensure that the management of the national parks retains a local as well as a regional and national element. If we do not do so, the people who live in the national parks will not feel that they have proper influence over planning.

I am sure that all Members will, in recent weeks, have experienced similar difficulties to those of the hon. Member for. Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in obtaining visas for visitors from the Indian subcontinent. Surely now, with the relaxation of tension in the area, the Government should he doing what they can to try to ease that problem.

In my past, as well as being a councillor, I was a part-time beekeeper, although I had to give it up when the bees stung me. I am a sensitive soul and they managed to close both my eyes completely so that I looked like a Mongolian baby. After that, I kept well clear of bees. However, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who is not in his place at present, made an important point about the beekeeping community and the difficulties that it experiences with insurance.

In a curious way, that linked to the next speech: the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) also described how insurance companies have an extraordinary hold on all sorts of activities. In his case, it was a colliery. It surely cannot be right that when we as a nation invest large sums to maintain—in that case—a colliery, although it could be any business, it should be put on the rack by the failure of insurance brokers to find cover for the business. It is absurd that public money invested in an operation can be put at risk by the private company that provides insurance and by the insurance market.

I confess that I did not hear the whole of the speech made by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) as I had left the Chamber for a restorative banana. He deployed an extremely good argument about the enormous number of telecommunication masts that are apparently being permitted—it must be said—by a fast-track procedure introduced by the Conservative Government.

One of the most absurd situations that has ever occurred in planning was when that Government, who had an opportunity to do so, did not tell telecommunications companies, "Yes, you may have a mast, but you can have only one mast in an area for all the operators". However, once the Government had given consent to one operator. it was difficult to resist applications from others. It would have been perfectly possible to insist that all operators use the same mast. I am given to understand that there would be no technical problems; indeed, there would be real cost savings. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford said that there were 29 applications in his constituency. The position is similar in my constituency and I very much regret that the then Secretary of State did not insist on joint use of masts.

I wanted especially to refer to the support expressed by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) for the parliamentary education unit. A number of us are working hard in various ways to try to make this place more than an interesting historical monument, although I am very fond of it. This is a great building; it is an interesting example of the results of an architectural competition. Indeed, the architects who won that competition were ahead of their time in many, many ways.

What is most important for visitors to this place, however, is that they see a working democracy. That is what it should be all about. The hon. Member for Burnley and I sit on the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons and one of our most important functions is to try to ensure that Parliament is seen to be modern, working for the community and the nation, rather than merely an interesting museum full of old pictures. I very much hope that various proposals will make that more evident in the future.

The parliamentary education unit is a critical part of the way in which we deploy our resources to ensure that people better understand what we do. I hope that it will reduce the extent to which people feel detached from, and unable to contribute to, the political process.

It was interesting to discover that Members throughout the United Kingdom have so much in common. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) complained about policing in rural areas. Her area is not as rural as mine, so I can claim that we have an even greater crisis—as other hon. Members might do. too. The problem is more about retention than recruitment, however. Retention of police officers is a major problem, not only in the south-east but in many parts of the country.

We have lost a large number of specials. Having been a member of a police authority, I know of the important role that specials can play. Of course, many of them go on to become full-time police officers, so the number of specials who have been recruited or retained may not be really indicative of the problem. The important point is whether total police manpower is sufficient for a particular area.

The hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) raised two issues that are important to our communities—I know that many other hon. Members have similar views—the danger, inconvenience and disturbance caused by fireworks and more seriously by airguns. There cannot be a single Member who has not had complaints from individuals or communities about the increased use of airguns, which can be incredibly dangerous, by all ages, not simply teenagers or youths. The hon. Lady rightly pointed to the additional problem of police officers believing them to be real firearms, from which they must protect the community.

I fear that I do not follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) in her depressing analysis of what she termed the failure of the peace process and the Good Friday agreement. Members on both sides of the House may share her concern about the future in Northern Ireland, but they have yet to see any new proposals that they would wish to support to try to make the existing peace process work.

Before I come to my own contribution, I want to refer briefly to the speech of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen). I do not know the details of the case in Colombia to which he referred, but it is important that we have accurate information on such issues, because BP, a major international company, is based in Britain.

My brief contribution—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Brief?"] We have got all night I am given to understand—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is speaking.

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I wanted to speak briefly about the funding of democracy. Not only is it claimed that the Labour party is in considerable debt, and is no doubt beginning to reconsider its position, but the Conservative party is in difficulty because it has to raise a great deal of money from a small number of individuals. The case for the state funding of political parties rests on the fact not that some parties are getting into financial difficulties, but that otherwise all political parties, especially those in government, can get into a position where they may be suspected of selling influence, which is dangerous for parliamentary democracy. Whether the parties concerned are hugely in debt is not the issue.

I want to cite—this is almost incredible—the leading article in The Sun last Friday, which urged the leader of the Conservative party to accept that it could have a long-term problem if a small number of organisations or individuals effectively continue to fund political parties. The perception is inevitably that they are buying access and influence, and whether it is Lord Ashcroft or the RMT, that is damaging to the health of parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Burns

What about Lloyd George?

Mr. Tyler

That was a long time ago, and my father did not know Lloyd George. However, I readily admit that Lloyd George did what he did—I have accepted in the House that this is a valid criticism of past political funding—precisely because, as now, parties had lost touch with their membership. In his case, he had lost his party and was no longer party leader. The only way in which he could maintain financial support was to sell honours.

I respect the decision of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the House not to give what the Leader of the House described as an oath of loyalty to the RMT union. They are right, but we must go the whole hog and recognise that any organisation or individual who pays millions of pounds into the coffers of a political party gives the impression that politics and democracy are for sale. That is wrong, and I hope that before we return from the summer recess the Government and, indeed, all political parties, will reassess their position and introduce concrete proposals for the House to discuss.

10.39 pm
Bob Spink (Castle Point)

I hope that, after a number of years, I can be promoted to the ranks of the usual suspects in these debates. The defining characteristic of the usual suspects is that each cares passionately about constituency matters and his or her special interests, as we heard from a number of excellent speeches tonight. They care so much that they give up their time to promote those interests, and Parliament and the country are richer for that. I thank all hon. Members for staying on tonight and for their diligence in being in the Chamber.

Unlike the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), I thought that the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) made a particularly effective contribution, with which many hon. Members would associate themselves.

There are many issues that affect my constituency. My constituents are overtaxed by a Government who promised much, but who have delivered little. My constituents feel that things are getting worse. However, I shall put party politics to one side tonight and review a few issues in a non-political way, starting with the important matter of the funding of hospices.

Little Haven hospice in my constituency receives about 2 per cent. of its funding from the Government. That figure is far too low. We want to retain Little Haven and other hospices as essentially voluntary bodies funded largely by charitable donation, but they need a proper amount of Government funding. That should be nearer 18 or 20 per cent., not just the miserly 2 per cent. that they currently get, which is a disaster for the sick children.

I raised the matter about a year ago in Prime Minister's questions. I am not the only local Member to raise it or to fight for hospice funding. My hon. Friends the Members for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who is in his seat, for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who is in his place, have all supported improved hospice funding, and I congratulate them.

I warmly congratulate the local Evening Echo and the Newsquest newspaper group on their campaign to get fairer funding for our hospices. They are running an effective campaign, and have particularly caught the public's imagination with their latest headline, which reads, "Fair deal for our sick children". I could not have put it better. The hospices do the country, the health service and families that need to use them a very great service. I take the opportunity to congratulate all hospice staff, both medical and other, throughout the country on what they do.

David Taylor

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that some months ago, when leading a debate on hospice funding, I brought to the attention of the House the fact that the previous Administration had given a promise that in the medium term—that delightful unspecific phrase—Government funding would be found to match the private sector funding on which the vast bulk of hospices depend. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that in 18 years it was not possible for the Conservative Government to deliver on that commitment?

Bob Spink

The hon. Gentleman has shown a long interest and a great expertise in the hospice movement, and he makes a valid point. I am grateful to him for taking the trouble to make that point tonight.

I could not speak in one of these debates without mentioning Canvey Island's third access road, in addition to the possibility of Canvey Island getting a rail terminus station on the island to help to alleviate congestion and to provide a safe environment for the island people. That is a matter on which I continue to press.

I hope that the hon. Members for Basildon (Angela Smith), who is on the Treasury Bench tonight, and for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who is not in his place, although he is an assiduous attender of the House. will urge their local councils not to try to block the needs of Canvey Island people, whose road must pass through their areas. Their councils are stopping Canvey getting its third road, and we must put an end to that.

Tomorrow, there will be an announcement about airports in the south-east. I am sure that it will be of great interest to my constituents, as well as to people elsewhere along the Thames estuary and in north Kent. I shall have to wait and see what is said, but I believe that, while taking the opportunities that a new airport would offer and allowing this country to move forward and compete on a wider global scale by providing the necessary new infrastructure and capacity, we must ensure that our constituents' interests are carefully looked after. I am sure that all hon. Members will seek to protect those interests.

I should like to raise two specific issues about housing. I refer first to the very serious issue of homelessness. Castle Point has more than 30 families with children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is absolutely disgraceful, and it is outrageous that Castle Point borough council did not even take the trouble to bid for money that the Government made available to deal with homelessness a few months ago. I hope that we can get our local council to focus on the homelessness problem and provide the resources that are needed to deal with people—especially those with families—at a very vulnerable time in their lives.

I welcomed the announcement that the Government made a few months ago that they would eradicate the practice of keeping homeless people with families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but I was saddened that they later qualified their statement—this Government often seem to do so—by saying that they intended that homeless families would not be kept in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks and that that aim would not be achieved for 18 months. I would like a far more stringent target to be set to help homeless people.

My second point about housing concerns the Deputy Prime Minister's recent announcement about the increase of building in the south and particularly in the Thames gateway area, which includes my constituency. We simply do not have any brownfield land available. We shall have to release green-belt land to build the 2,400 houses that have been forced on us by the Government's Serplan announcement of a year ago. We do not know where the vast numbers of houses are going to be built. We still have not identified plots for them. We know that we shall have to release chunks of the green belt, but my constituents do not want that to happen, not only because we are already overdeveloped in terms of the existing infrastructure, but most of all because no announcement was made about providing new infrastructure to deal with those new people and cars. No new roads were announced; in particular, no announcement was made about Canvey Island getting another rail station or a third road. No new doctors' surgeries or genuine offer of new housing that would be affordable to teachers, medical staff and policemen were announced. That causes me great concern and I shall fight the overdevelopment that is being forced on my constituency.

Mr. Pike

Would not better regional policy to develop jobs, industries, commerce and so on in other parts of the country help to deal with problems in the south and also those in my constituency, which are the exact reverse? Sensible regional planning is important, as a lot of the jobs no longer need to be in London and the south.

Bob Spink

I do not see what is wrong with the planning that is currently undertaken by the county councils. I do not see why we need another body to do yet more planning. To me, that smacks of the dead hand of more and more bureaucracy being piled on to us by a Government who are basically control freaks.

Hon. Members would be very disappointed if I were to speak in this debate without finishing on my usual serious note by referring to the Cyprus problem. I ask the Minister for clarification following Lord Hannay's reported comments implying that there might be a suggestion of a solution based on two states in Cyprus. That would not be a fair settlement. It would not be sustainable in law, in international diplomacy or in justice. We must stick to our position—the position that I always thought the Government held, and that I trust they still hold—that Cyprus will gain accession to the European Union irrespective of the settlement. Turkey must not have the ability to frustrate the entry of Cyprus into the EU. We must also stick to a solution of a bi-zonal, bi-communal single state.

The talks between President Clerides and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, have not yet borne fruit, and I am sure that that brings great sadness to everyone in the House. We have not had the breakthrough that we hoped for, but I congratulate President Clerides on his flexibility and his positive approach to those talks, and I encourage him to go forward. We need flexibility to achieve a solution, but only a solution based on a single Cypriot state, and I hope that the Minister will clarify that matter for us when he winds up the debate.

10.51 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

I want to raise two points tonight. The first concerns the care of the elderly in Birmingham. My constituency regards itself as very different from Binningham, but it comes under Birmingham for local government purposes. We are, therefore, affected by the way in which Birmingham social services department handles the care of the elderly. I want to draw to the House's attention the last early-day motion that appears on the Order Paper, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), the shadow Health Secretary, and a number of other hon. Members. It is early-day motion 1670, and it states: That this House expresses its grave concern about the crisis in care for the elderly in Birmingham and elsewhere in England; is alarmed that over 80 care homes have closed in Birmingham over the last 18 months; and recognises that a main contributory factor to this crisis is the decision by Birmingham Social Services to pay substantially less than the real cost of providing care for the elderly in care homes and that this practice is threatening to force good quality independent care homes out of business, causing grave distress and confusion to vulnerable, frail and elderly residents in Birmingham. I have quite deliberately not sought to raise this matter in the House over recent months, because I simply could not believe that it would not have been sorted out by the Government and Birmingham city council. It is astonishing that the situation has been allowed to reach this stage. A constituent of mine, Mr. Alan Pearce, who is the chairman of the Birmingham Care Consortium, has raised with me the treatment of his members, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is a thoroughgoing scandal.

More than 80 care homes for the elderly have closed in the last 18 months—as is set out in my hon. Friend's early-day motion—and the trend continues. There is no contingency plan in place to accommodate our elderly residents. Indeed, over recent days, three more independent care homes for the elderly have given notice to Birmingham social services that they, too, will have to close. It is no exaggeration to say that below-cost fee levels and the absence of contracts for funding are putting 1,600 elderly residents of independent care homes at risk.

There are 452 beds blocked in Birmingham hospitals, because Birmingham social services department claims that it does not have the funds to move elderly patients into care homes, because it has spent the money elsewhere. Eighty-six independent care homes refuse to renew service contracts for elderly care because the terms dictated by Birmingham social services involve below-cost fee levels, and it would be financial suicide for them to accept them. There will also be no referrals for consortium members who do not sign up to the unsustainable contracts that Birmingham city council has put forward.

It is possible that Government funding for Birmingham's elderly might be enough to cover the costs, but that money is being spent elsewhere by Birmingham social services, and not reaching our elderly folk. The problem is that, as the situation has got worse and worse for elderly people in my constituency and throughout the Birmingham area, the Government have said, "It's nothing to do with us. We have given the money to Birmingham." The council, however, says that it does not have the money and cannot meet the costs that it should be meeting.

The picture is, in fact, infinitely worse, given that Birmingham social services pays its own homes double the fees that it is willing to pay the independent sector. It pays its homes at least £522 per resident per week, as opposed to the £260 on which it expects other homes to survive. That represents a subsidy of nearly £13.5 million a year for its own homes. The situation is outrageous. Because of the way in which local government operates, we delegate this power to councils. We expect them to accept responsibility and ensure that elderly people are looked after in homes, rather than behaving in such an appalling way.

There is a shortfall in provision of elderly care beds in Birmingham anyway. It has been calculated that if an elderly person remains in hospital, the cost will be some £1,700 per patient per week. We have done our bit: Conservative members of Birmingham city council, both behind and on the scenes, have pleaded with the social services department to put the matter right. In a debate in the House, my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford eloquently made the case for Government action. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, went to Birmingham only last week and met owners of homes for the elderly to hear what they had to say.

It is vital for the matter to be resolved as quickly as possible. Birmingham's social services department is a shambles. Last week the department's head, Sandra Taylor, resigned. It is a rather unattractive feature of political life that this civil servant, rather than her political masters, should take responsibility; but in any event she has gone, and no doubt someone else will be appointed. Money is not reaching front-line services. If Ministers believe that they have given Birmingham adequate funds, I can only say that they are not getting through. Ministers must act now to resolve what is becoming a long-standing problem.

Mr. Burns

Does my hon. Friend recall that under the last Government money in the social services budget for personal social services was ring-fenced, so it could not be drained away to other services?

Mr. Mitchell

I do indeed. My hon. Friend will have noted that there is a rather better system in Scotland—a new system ensuring that money allocated specifically to the care of elderly people reaches those people.

Most outrageous of all, surely, is the blatant discrimination practised by Birmingham's social services department against the independent sector. How can it justify admitting that it must pay £522 a week for its own homes, while expecting independent homes to get by on half that? It is a thoroughgoing scandal, and it must be addressed. I do not know whether responsibility lies with the Labour Government or with Labour-controlled Birmingham city council, but I do know that it lies with one of those two Labour entities. Elderly people in my constituency and throughout the Birmingham area are suffering, and it behoves the Government to remedy that rapidly.

My second point relates to the Pension Service, and the way in which elderly people can gain access to it. I have raised the issue on a point of order. It was subsequently raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) in business questions, and last Thursday it was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), shadow leader of the House, again in business questions. It has been raised no fewer than three times by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions.

The issue is this: how can an elderly person who is, or is about to be, a pensioner gain access to the Pension Service? Can that person ask for a home visit, or must he or she rely on the decision of the provider? In other words, will this be the elderly person's choice or that of the bureaucrats in the Pension Service?

That was raised in public evidence in the Select Committee. In the Committee, I said to a senior and respected official in the Department for Work and Pensions: I was very encouraged when the Minister told us that home visits would be an integral part of the service, that it would be a matter of choice for pensioners whether or not they could ask for home visits. I was somewhat surprised that the Department said that it was clear that whether or not a home visit took place was very much up to The Pension Service and that it would be used where there was no reasonable alternative available. Those are different approaches to this. Were we being spun by the Minister, or was he correct and the brief wrong? The senior civil servant said: We are not building a model which is actually showing that anyone can just choose to have a home visit. Neither I nor the Select Committee was satisfied with the response.

On 4 July, the Minister received a letter from the Select Committee, in which we noted that apparently two completely different explanations were given to the Committee. The first was by the Minister for Pensions, who said: Older people will have the choice of doing their business through pension centres … or receiving home visits … By providing that choice, we will make improvements for the older pensioners who need to access such services from time to time.—[Official Report, 20 May 2002; Vol. 386, c. 4.] One would have thought that the position could not have been clearer.

When we asked for an explanation and the Minister came to the Dispatch Box because, as I have tonight, I gave him notice that I was going to raise these points, he made many cogent, interesting and helpful points but did not answer the specific question. Nor did his helpful letter of 10 July. It pointed out that around 67 per cent. of customers in the pensioner client group expressed a preference for contacting the organisation by telephone", and that

The Pension Service is aiming to have a dedicated local service nation-wide. It pointed out a range of things but did not deal with the point that I, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and the Chairman of the Select Committee have made.

In the letter, the Select Committee makes clear its concerns. In his responses, the Minister for Pensions did not address the Committee's chief concern, which was related solely to the provision of home visits by the Pension Service. Again, the Chairman of the Select Committee made it clear that the Minister said: Older people will have the choice of doing their business through pension centres such as the one at Motherwell or receiving home visits and participating in other local activities"—[Official Report, 20 May 2002; Vol. 386, c. 4.] but the senior civil servant, Ms Alexis Cleveland, stated during her oral evidence on 12 June:

We are not building a model which is actually showing that anyone can just choose to have a home visit. She reinforced that view in a supplementary memorandum where she said that the local service was not designed to be a visiting, on-demand service and that the department would expect such occasions to be rare.

It is clear to anyone who listens to the evidence that those two views cannot both be correct. Either, as the House was told by the Minister for Pensions, pensioners will be able to choose whether to receive a home visit or use the telephone; or as is clearly consistent with Government policy, the official was correct in saying that the department will choose which customers receive a home visit based on need. In the response to the Select Committee, nothing gainsays those remarks.

There is a most important point at issue. Parliament has not been treated with the candour that we have a right to expect. Hundreds, possibly hundreds of thousands, of pensioners have been misled. They have been told that the choice is theirs but it is not: the choice is the officials'. Nor is the model the Pension Service has developed capable of delivering the choice promised to pensioners by the Minister.

To some it may seem a small point. Some of my hon. Friends may have become cynical about what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box. They may say that all Governments behave like that. I do not believe that that is true. I ask the Minister to come to the House before we go into recess, to apologise to the House and to thousands of elderly and vulnerable pensioners. This is a point of substance and the Government need to address it before we adjourn.

11.5 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

I want to raise several issues before the House adjourns for the summer recess. Today, I had the honour to introduce a Bill to give protection to endangered species. The current law, with an offence that is not arrestable and carries a maximum sentence of two years, is crazy. My Bill would make the offence arrestable and extend the maximum sentence to five years. We all enjoy watching films about dinosaurs, but we do not want to create any more, which we will unless we protect endangered species.

I am also very concerned about law and order. We meet in the House in order to make laws, but increasingly I feel that my constituents are less than happy with the way in which laws are enforced. Police morale is at rock bottom, and our constituents are often disappointed when the crimes that they report are not followed up. It does not matter what the Government say, because the general public feeling is one of a lack of confidence in law enforcement.

I have asked the Library to conduct an analysis—it will take a great deal of time—of just a few Acts of Parliament, to find out on how many occasions the laws have been enforced. In 1988, I had the honour to introduce the Protection against Cruel Tethering Bill, which became an Act of Parliament, yet I had a letter only this week from a constituent complaining that she had reported horses being inadequately watered and improperly tethered but that absolutely nothing had been done.

My constituents complain that when they ring the local police station they are put through to a call centre—it could be in Chelmsford or, on another occasion, in Croydon—with no local knowledge. That, too, has caused a reduction in confidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) mentioned mobile phones. The House may be aware of my own prejudices on that issue. Earlier today, we debated a related subject. It really is not good enough for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and pray in aid the Stewart report and sit on the fence, when we all know that the law is an ass. Local authorities do their best to turn down applications, but the operators get their way on appeal.

Ministers have said that it is not lawful to drive a motor car while talking on a mobile phone, but every single day I see a legion of people with the mobile tucked under the chin, having detailed conversations and taking not a blind bit of notice of what is going on. Two months ago, someone was convicted and went to prison for three years because he had been talking on a mobile phone and killed someone, but the law is scarcely ever enforced.

Only recently, we had the case of Dr. Shipman, a man who has been found guilty of murdering 250 or 280 patients, and who perhaps killed another 100. That had been going on since 1975. What confidence can the general public have in law enforcement when this doctor's performance was not even properly monitored? It is an absolute disgrace. If I was one of those murdered patients' relatives, I would not be satisfied with the way in which the matter seems to have been dealt with so far.

On law enforcement, the Government have kindly sent us all a consultation paper called "Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud." In 1993, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to provide for voluntary identity cards; indeed, I think that that was the first time such a Bill was not opposed. Ten years later, the current Government want us to reflect on their consultation paper, but I need not do so. I cannot understand why any law-abiding citizen would object to identity cards. Before beginning my speech, I thought, "Shall I take out my wallet, which looks a bit bulky?" It is stuffed full—not of money, unfortunately, or of losing lottery tickets, but of plastic cards. If we had identity cards, that particular problem could be dealt with. If this House is to be relevant to our constituents, we must consider carefully the fact that it is no earthly good our continually passing laws and not providing the work force to enforce them.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and for West Chelmsford, mentioned the crisis in care homes. My hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and I are served by the excellent Southend Times, and I certainly praise the efforts of the editor, Michael Guy, in trying to highlight a number of related issues. One headline ran, "Care Homes in Crisis: One home a month is closing in Southend". I should point out that, of the 659 constituencies in this country, mine is 33rd in terms of the number of senior citizens.

David Cormack, chief executive of Southend Derby and Joan organisation and chairman of South Essex Care Homes Association, told the Southend Times that care homes are closing because the proprietors are not being given enough money to run them at even a tiny profit. Also, as a result of the standards and guidelines imposed by the National Care Standards Commission—the regulatory body that took over responsibility for ensuring good standards in the care home sector—it has been pretty well impossible for such homes to remain viable.

We are all familiar with the story of the lady—she was well into her 90s—who went on a starvation protest a few weeks ago because she did not want to be moved from her home, and who eventually died. I served on the Committee that considered the Care Standards Bill, which eventually became an Act. We tried then to warn Ministers that most elderly people are not bothered whether their room is 2 in too small, or whether their home is the all-singing, all-dancing affair that such homes used to be; what matters is the love and care given by the proprietors. Although I have a great deal of time for the Minister with responsibility for such matters—he always tells me that he is doing his best to allow the owners of care homes to meet the new standards—I very much regret the fact that so many care homes have had to close.

In the Whitsun Adjournment debate, I raised the case of Mrs. Narwar's son, who was imprisoned in Egypt together with several other people after going on a trip there. Unfortunately, he is still in prison. Baroness Amos is dealing with the matter, and I understand that she must do so very carefully. However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to convince Mrs. Narwar that her son is being treated in the way that she would hope. Several important issues of justice are involved.

The Friday before last, I had the privilege of shadowing—in the nicest sense—a nurse at Southend hospital. I arrived at 6.50 am, when the night shift was just finishing, and for more than three hours I saw at first hand the excellent work that is being done at that hospital. Mrs. Janet Cornell, a constituent of mine, wrote recently to say that we only hear about the poor aspects of the NHS, but, she continues: We as a family are so appreciative and realise the enormous cost of all the treatment extended to my husband, and we are so very grateful. She goes on to praise the wonderful work that is done at Southend hospital. However, I also saw at first hand how pressurised the staff are.

Another constituent, whom I will not name, wrote to me recently about what he considers to be the abuse of the ambulance service. I do not mean to attack our GPs, who do magnificent work, but the constituent told me of a dialogue with a GP whom he had wanted to come out to see his wife. The doctor was a little short with my constituent on the telephone, refused to come out and suggested that he call an ambulance. My constituent eventually did so, and the ambulance driver told him that this was not a one-off event, claiming that locums are increasingly taking that course of action because they, too, are under great stress.

Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) thought that he would not need to mention his hospital, I did not think that I would need to mention the Palace theatre, because, as far as I was concerned, its future was not in doubt. However, unfortunately and dramatically, it has now closed. Several of my constituents feel that that is because of a lack of funds from Eastern Arts. I shall not take this opportunity to have a go at the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), but apparently Colchester theatre gets £450,000 as a subsidy, whereas the Palace theatre in Southend gets nothing. That cannot be fair.

Bob Russell (Colchester)

I am grateful for that welcoming introduction. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that since Colchester is the cultural capital of Essex, it is only right that it should receive appropriate funding?

Mr. Airless

The hon. Gentleman has probably had a good dinner, but I have not yet had the opportunity to do so. Colchester is a wonderful town, but the hon. Gentleman slightly exaggerates its position. It is a disgrace that the Palace theatre receives nothing while Ipswich and the other theatres get a lot of money.

Recently, we staged an Agatha Christie festival, which was feted not only in the UK but all over the world. It was absolutely first class. The present owners of the theatre, managers Green and Lenigan, thought that Eastern Arts would give them £250,000, but they received nothing. The Palace theatre had intended to run a young people's theatre summer school. It was fully booked, but it has had to be cancelled. I hope that the Minister will have a word with the appropriate Department to see if we can obtain some extra funding.

Several other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), have said that their towns will win the bloom contest, but Southend, which won the gold medal at the Chelsea flower show, will be a tough act to beat. I hope that hon. Members will consider visiting Southend for their summer holidays this year. I am delighted to say that the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting recently visited Southend and we are grateful for the interest that he showed in the town and, in particular, in our pier, which is the longest in the world. We have recently opened a new lifeboat station, we have millennium illuminations and a new sewage disposal system—I doubt whether that will be of huge interest to visitors. We are constructing the new pier entrance, including the installation of a lift. We are reconstructing the area of the pier head that was substantially damaged by fire in 1976. There is also the renovation of walkway shelters and pier-head toilets and the installation of CCTV cameras. I hope that all these things will act as incentives to visitors.

Let me move on quickly to my three final points. Many Members feel strongly about religious broadcasting. The appropriate Department has been sending us letters with which I feel slightly uneasy. Hundreds of thousands of law-abiding tax-paying people throughout the country have been asking for Christian broadcasting for more than 12 years. Yet the Department for Culture, Media and Sport still justifies its ban by continuing to say that its aim is to satisfy as many viewers and listeners as possible. I join the organisation in asking the Government to remove the disqualification of religious persons from the draft communications Bill and to replace it with Parliament's previous provision for Christian religious broadcasting.

My penultimate point relates to Westborough's residents association, which was keen that I should raise the issue. I attended its meeting a few days ago—one of the best-attended residents' meetings to which I have ever been. Of the nine wards in my constituency, Westborough is probably—I know that no local residents will take offence—the most deprived area. When we had a Liberal-Labour council—I am glad to say that we now have a Conservative-controlled council in Southend—and we tried for assisted area status, Westborough would have been one of the two wards to receive some European funding. However, it was taken out of that.

There is a large old timber yard in Fairfax drive, and unbelievably there is an application—I understand that the council is to debate the matter at full council on Thursday—to turn it into a residential area. The one thing that Westborough does not need is more housing. There are so many people living in cramped conditions—97 people per hectare. The area is within the top 10 most densely populated wards in the United Kingdom. It is not good enough that local residents be given more housing. There is asbestos in the timber yard and there is great difficulty in getting access to the area. Many residents have been complaining that there is need for another school. We need more doctors and another community centre.

Local residents understand what the Deputy Prime Minister said about wishing to build 200,000 houses in the south-east, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to the residents of Westborough. Given that the average population density is 4.2 people per hectare and that in Westborough it is 23 times that, the situation is unacceptable.

I enter the summer recess on a jubilant note, because yesterday I completed my charity walk. I mentioned on another occasion that I would walk down every road, cul-de-sac and lane in my constituency. The walk was completed yesterday. I do not quite know how the pedometer works and I am slightly nervous to find out exactly how far I walked. I have given the instrument to a council official. However, I can tell the House that we hope—I say "we" because I did the walk with my black labrador Michael—that when all the money is collected, we will have raised more than £10,000. That will be shared among three charities. I do not feel guilty about putting my feet up for a little while during the summer recess. I hope that all other right hon. and hon. Members and those who work so hard to support us in the House have a happy and enjoyable summer recess.

11.24 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I should like to make a plea for help to the deputy Leader of the House. For some time now, I have been trying to get from Ministers information, help and assistance for my constituents, but to no avail. I shall begin with an issue that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), will find very easy because he already knows about it, and it will come as no surprise to him that I want to raise it again today.

In July 2000, the Prime Minister visited Exeter in the company of the Parliamentary Secretary, and he made a promise to my constituents about the A30 between Honiton and Exeter—a road covered in concrete that I discussed in an Adjournment debate on 16 January 2001. The Prime Minister promised the residents who live adjacent to the road that the Government would resurface that very noisy road. In fact, it is deemed to be the most noisy road in Britain.

The fact that a Prime Minister took the trouble to intervene personally in a somewhat localised matter was seen by local people as a very good sign, but I am sorry to have to report that, despite my raising the issue on the Floor of the House and having exchanged umpteen items of correspondence with Ministers, we still have no idea at all when the road will be resurfaced. So the encouragement to my constituents to celebrate following that prime ministerial promise has turned rather sour. Indeed, the Government have said that a list of all the noisy roads in Britain will be produced and that the A30 will be assessed to find out where it will come in the pecking order.

On 23 August 2000, I received yet another letter from the then Minister, Lord Whitty, who said: I will ask the Agency to write to you again in the autumn when we should have further news on when resurfacing work on this length of the A30 will commence. We are still waiting. I suppose that if I were asked to choose a title for the issues that I want to raise tonight, I would say, "Nothing to do with me, guv"—spelled either "gov" or "guv." Both spellings apply because all these are matters where the Prime Minister or other Ministers have become involved in something, made a promise and then somehow everything has run into the sand.

I tell the Parliamentary Secretary, whose constituency neighbours mine and whose beaming picture appeared next to the Prime Minister's on that fateful day in July 2000, that I know of no one in the Government who could have more influence on that matter than the hon. Member for Exeter, so I hope that I will not have to return during the debate on the next Adjournment and spoil his Christmas by asking about the issue yet again.

Mr. Tyler

As I mentioned earlier in the debate, I travelled on that the road just last weekend and, yet again, I was amazed at the surface. I wonder whether the hon. Lady can tell us when, how and why that surface was specified for the road in the first place. It is quite extraordinary.

Mrs. Browning

If the hon. Gentleman refers to the Adjournment debate on the subject that I initiated on 16 January 2001, he will see that I raised the issue before the road was built. He will also see all the detail of how I was misled, orally and in writing, by the Highways Agency and, subsequently, by the contractors, which assured me that what he travelled on last week was something called whisper concrete. [Interruption.] Yes, even the Parliamentary Secretary is laughing, and well he might. Nothing about that surface has anything to do with whispers; it is the noisiest road in Britain, and we would like it to be resurfaced, so I leave that with him.

I have another problem—this time, with education. Uffculme secondary school in my constituency has written to me, and I visited it as a result. We keep hearing Ministers talking about increased funding for education, yet this school for 11 to 16-year-olds, which is, I hasten to add, very good—people move house so that they can get their children into it—has very serious problems. As I was aware that the recess was coming up, I wrote to the Minister for School Standards on 31 May, asking for a meeting, but I did not get a reply, so I had to write again. Only yesterday, nearly two months later, did I get a letter saying that the Minister would not grant my request for a meeting because he did not think that it would help matters as far as Uffculme school is concerned, as the matter is really one for the LEA.

I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) at the beginning of the debate, which seems almost a lifetime ago, and I recall him saying that after constituents visited him last Saturday, he had secured a meeting with a Minister for this Wednesday, just five days later. I want to put it on record that I am now monitoring the occasions on which Ministers refuse me a meeting. I say that as someone who served for three years as a Minister and never once refused a meeting to a Member of Parliament of any party who asked if they could come and see me. Indeed, sometimes, from the Dispatch Box, I would offer Members a meeting because I felt that it was in their best interests to come and discuss a matter with me personally.

I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that I do not write to Ministers for trivial reasons. Uffculme school is having severe problems. It is having to consider the fact that its statutory obligations cannot be met. Governors were told that if they did not set a balanced budget, the LEA would dismiss them and take over the running of the school. This is not a sink school; it is one of the best schools in my constituency. It has produced a budget but it simply does not provide enough money to meet health and safety requirements, to provide the statutory curriculum, to pay creditors or to meet statutory obligations on special educational needs.

The problem is not that Devon LEA has not passed on the full amount from the standard spending assessment. In his letter to me the Minister admitted that the LEA has passed on the full SSA. Clearly, something is wrong with the education system when such an excellent school, which has never had such problems before, cannot meet its statutory obligations.

I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that when MPs have these serious problems it is not acceptable for Ministers to dismiss them, two months later, by refusing a meeting and thinking that a letter will do—it will not. If I cannot get the Minister to meet me, then I may apply for an Adjournment debate after the recess. I should not have to drag Ministers to an Adjournment debate just to have a dialogue with them, but it is up to them—I am sure that they look forward to such exchanges with great pleasure.

I turn now to hospices, another matter of which the Parliamentary Secretary will be aware because he and I cover an area of Devon that shares a hospice in Exeter. Hospice care is funded by the local authorities in Exeter, Mid Devon and East Devon. and it has a crisis. I listened with great interest to what a Labour Member said about the previous Conservative Government, but I have to say that under that Government hospices in Exeter received higher funding than they do today. The situation is dire.

On 7 May, I wrote to the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), on behalf of the hospice in Exeter, and I am still waiting for a reply. I asked whether the Department would consider interim funding to help the hospice with its serious problems. Its budget has been so reduced this year that although it asked for £235,000, it got approximately £20,000, which leaves a massive shortfall. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will have heard about those figures in his constituency postbag.

It is no good Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box and giving us a lot of hype about health funding if, on the ground, our hospitals and hospices cannot continue and are worried about closing. In the same way, I do not want to hear any more waffle from the Chancellor about education, education, education, when excellent schools such as Uffculme cannot meet their statutory obligations.

Ministers appear to be quite divorced. They come to the Dispatch Box to make great flowing statements, but when we get down to the nitty-gritty and say, "Yes, but what about this or that in my constituency?", the answer is, "It's nothing to do with me, guv." We are told that it is the LEA's responsibility, or the health authority's—as though Ministers do not have ongoing responsibility for what happens after they leave the Chamber. It really will not do.

There is another matter that the Government do not want to know about, which I find astonishing. When they entered office, the Government suddenly discovered e-commerce—and a lot of other e-things. The Prime Minister even introduced a whole new plan for delivering e-government. One of the keys to extending opportunities, especially for businesses, is to ensure that throughout the country people have access to broadband, which speeds up access and makes life a great deal easier. However, in my part of Devon, which is rural, small businesses situated in remote areas do not have access to broadband.

One of the problems is that BT has held back from proceeding with the changes that it needs to make. BT has told my local business community that there is not enough demand for broadband, so it will not make the investment. It is a chicken-and-egg situation: if BT does not make the investment, people will not latch on to broadband as a means of accessing the web more quickly and more extensively. There are other options, and on 21 May I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry asking when broadband was likely to be made available to the 01884 exchange area in my constituency. I received a rather anodyne reply that. in essence, said that it was nothing to do with the Government; the decision was for the companies concerned.

That is not compatible with what we hear Ministers saying at conferences and at the Dispatch Box, or what we read in the Government's reports. One would think that they were at the forefront—at the cutting edge. Ministers keep telling us about the Government services that are to be rolled out through e-this and e-that, but if people cannot access those services, or can access them only from certain parts of the country, it is up the Government to prod BT and other companies to make the services available and to ensure that there is equal opportunity of access throughout the country.

What I have described this evening is a mere soupcon of the dozens of cases that I could have raised. One gets the impression that the Government are at the forefront on some things, but the moment they are challenged on the detail, suddenly it is nothing to do with them; it is for someone else—anybody but a Minister. If I have to return at the Christmas Adjournment debate and raise the same cases yet again, or if I have to raise another set of cases in which Ministers have been reluctant to respond to letters promptly or to answer straightforward written questions, or they have refused meetings—I do not ask for meetings every week; I only ask when the issue is an important one. such as Uffculme school—I hope that the Speaker will take it upon himself to examine the opportunity that we Back-Bench Members of Parliament have to get the sort of service that we deserve from the Government. We are not getting that service at the moment.

I hope that it is not only Conservative Members who are not getting that service. I hope that there is no discrimination in terms of access to Ministers and prompt replies. There are Cabinet Office rules about replies to Members of Parliament, but the rules are not being adhered to, especially in respect of the most difficult questions. I hope that the Minister has a lovely holiday and that he does not have to travel too often on that noisy road, but I hope also that he will put the issues that I have raised tonight at the top of his list, because they are extremely important to the people of my constituency.

11.39 pm
David Burnside (South Antrim)

Like many hon. Members who have contributed to this summer Adjournment debate, I would have liked to take some time to promote the positive aspects of Ulster, Northern Ireland and tourism in the Province. I would not, like the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), promote holidays overseas. I would promote holidays in the United Kingdom in order to help the very depressed tourism industry following foot and mouth and the events of 11 September. If I made such a speech, it would probably be more like that of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), as Northern Ireland has had a very wet summer. In fact, we have not even had a summer.

I would like to be promoting tourism in my constituency, encouraging people to go to places such as Royal Portrush, which makes Muirfield look like a pitch and putt course when the wind is blowing heavily off the Atlantic, and to be promoting all the great attractions of Strangford and Northern Ireland generally, but I shall take this opportunity to raise the continuing problem that depresses us and makes those of us who represent Northern Ireland constituencies more serious than we want to be and not just concentrate on constituency matters.

We are suffering a serious lack of consent and confidence among the Unionist people in the Province on the big issue of the constitutional arrangements—the Good Friday or Belfast agreement. Nearly all of us in this House have differences of opinion, but we have a basis of respect for each other. Although we question each other and argue, respect is felt in this House across all the political parties, but there is no trust left in Northern Ireland for the word of this Government.

One sees from the press over the weekend what stage that lack of trust has reached. The president of Sinn Fein-IRA, Gerry Adams, declared over the weekend—this is rich: if it were not a farce, it would be a joke—in an interview on the 30th anniversary of the terrible atrocity of Bloody Friday: I have been active, and it's a matter of public record, in Sinn Fein for all of my time within Republican politics". He then added: I have not been a member of the IRA". Is that the reality of the debate? The leader of the republican movement in Northern Ireland need only listen to the public response in the Province to such a statement. It is a con job and a farce.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister said at Hillsborough a few weeks ago that he had complete faith and confidence in Sinn Fein's commitment to the peace process. The law-abiding people of the Province do not share that sentiment, and that lack of confidence crosses the Unionist community and a large section of the constitutional nationalist and Catholic community. There is no trust any longer.

Before the House rises for the recess on Wednesday, I hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will have an opportunity to outline how they define a breach of the IRA-republican ceasefire. I hope that they will consider the events in Colombia since 1998; after the Good Friday agreement was struck—the sequence is important—$2 million was earned in training terrorists, and that drug money was taken to the United States of America to fund Sinn Fein-IRA.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make public before the recess, first through this House, the fact that Sir John Chilcot's interim report, which has been on the right hon. Gentleman's desk for more than a week, outlines only one line of inquiry into the break-in at Castlereagh special branch: Robert "Bobby" Storey, a senior commander of the provisional IRA in the city of Belfast. Perhaps the Secretary of State wants his summer recess and does not want the pressure from this House.

Let us consider everything in the four years since the agreement, especially the treatment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I find it rich to listen to English, Welsh, Scottish and Government Members talking about declining morale in the police and the need for more police on the beat when I see the finest police force in the United Kingdom decimated and humiliated.

All the evidence proves that the hopes and expectations of 1998 have been dashed. We need new hope and new support from democrats. We do not want to enter a spiral of depression where we constantly say that things can only get worse—they can get better. The democrats elected to this House from Northern Ireland—the Ulster Unionists, the Democratic Unionists and the constitutional nationalists, the Social and Democratic Labour party Members, who do not come to this place often—can come together and provide an alternative.

In the Liberal Front-Bench presidential address that we heard some time ago, we heard the usual claim that there is no alternative. There is an alternative to compromising the democratic process and to making it morally corrupt and dishonest to the people of Northern Ireland. We need something better.

There is another way forward. I have admired the Prime Minister's fight against international terrorism. The stand that he has taken has won support on both sides of the House. I ask him to remember the promises that he made—the promises that he has broken—and to come to the House and try to restore some confidence for the Unionists and law-abiding people in democratic processes.

It is no good supporting a flawed process that has failed, even though it received much support and consent from just over half the Unionist community and a large majority of the nationalist community. We are where we are. To keep pushing a failed and flawed process shows a lack of judgment on the part of the Prime Minister and the Government.

I ask the Prime Minister to renegotiate with the democratic parties in Northern Ireland to find something better. That means facing reality and marginalising Sinn Fein-IRA who have been exposed by their performance, by their continuation as a terrorist organisation, by their criminal activities in Northern Ireland and Colombia, by Castlereagh, by their crimes and shootings and by the lies, deceit and hypocrisy that come from the mouths of their spokesmen and women every day of the week.

Let us cut out the deceit and the lies and find a better way forward for a peace process for Northern Ireland. It is wanted by democrats and the majority of people, both Protestant and Catholic, and we are not getting it at present.

I am sorry that I had to raise this issue. All matters are important to our constituents; the smallest problems with hospitals or schools are every bit as important as the big constitutional issues in Ulster that I have been talking about. However, those issues affect the whole United Kingdom. The peace process is not working for the benefit of democracy in Northern Ireland.

The House may have to meet during the long recess. We are coming to a crunch so I hope that the House will meet again. This subject may be depressing but it will not go away. The Prime Minister must take hold of what he has let go in Northern Ireland—the trust and consent of democratic people.

11.48 pm
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

Before the House rises for the summer, I want to raise two issues. The first relates to the possible effects of recent changes to regulations governing local authority property searches. The second—to row in behind my parliamentary neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and for Southend. West (Mr. Amess)—is the siting of mobile telephone masts.

On 1 July this year, new regulations came into force governing property searches for house purchases. People already have the statutory right to paid access for such information under legislation such as the Local Land Charges Act 1975 and the Town and Country Planning Acts. A number of people pay solicitors or private search companies that specialise in such work to carry out property search inquiries on their behalf when buying a house. The new regulations require additional information to be made available as part of that process, particularly on the so-called CON 29 form, which is integral to the procedure. A number of local authorities, however, appear to be using the regulations as an excuse to restrict private search companies' access to their records, while offering to facilitate the work themselves for a fee.

That change threatens the livelihood of a number of successful personal search businesses which specialise in undertaking detailed property searches on behalf of prospective purchasers and now risk being shut out by the local authorities which hold the records. The Government have acknowledged that the issue is genuine, and set up a working group some months ago to draw up guidelines under which local authorities and personal search companies could agree a level playing field in light of the new regulations. Lengthy discussions, however, have still not produced a final set of workable guidelines on which both sides can agree, although the regulations are already in operation. As I understand it, that impasse has led to the prospect of legal action between personal search companies and local authorities.

If a suitable compromise cannot be reached, the matter may have to be referred to the Office of Fair Trading for an independent review and assessment of whether the local authorities are behaving anti-competitively in seeking to prevent small businesses, which are effectively competing for that work, from accessing records which are intended to be publicly available by law. That is an important matter, not only because it affects the livelihood of a number of successful small businesses across the country but because it threatens to delay the process of house purchase for purchasers and ultimately vendors too. I therefore urge Ministers to take the issue seriously and see what can be done in the near future to alleviate the problem and prevent the situation from deteriorating any further.

The siting of mobile telephone masts is of increasing concern in my constituency, as it is in many others. I have one particular case in Hockley, where local residents are very much opposed to a proposal to erect and operate a new mast in the middle of a residential area. Many Members will have experience of dealing with the problems generated by applications from mobile phone companies on the siting of telephone masts and will know of complaints and petitions from local residents strongly opposed to such proposals. They will also know that those protests are conducted against the backdrop of a set of planning rules which are heavily weighted in favour of the applicants. Masts under 15 m in height are classified as permitted development and local authorities have limited powers to object to applications, a point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford. They can concentrate only on aspects such as aesthetic qualities, visual amenity and environmental grounds. They are effectively prevented by planning policy guidance note 8—PPG8—from objecting to the siting of masts on health grounds, even though the vast majority of concerns relate to precisely that issue.

Most of us are not qualified scientists, and I certainly do not feel qualified to proffer a definitive opinion on the health implications of such masts. However, because of the uncertainty surrounding the situation, the Government commissioned an eminent scientist, Professor Stewart, to look into the issue in great detail. He concluded that the evidence was not decisive either way and, as a result, recommended the use of the precautionary principle in the siting of such masts. In particular, he recommended that they should be situated away from schools and other places where young people, who may be more susceptible to the signals emitted by masts, might gather.

Crucially, however, the law has not kept pace with the implications of the Stewart report, and does not allow local authorities to adopt a precautionary approach of their own, effectively leaving them with Hobson's choice—sticking up for their residents and rejecting the application, knowing that it is highly likely that under the current guidelines, the mobile telephone companies will ultimately win on appeal, including the award of costs against the local authority, or giving in, very much against the wishes of the people who elected their councillors to represent them.

The roll-out of so-called third generation or 3G technology will only worsen the situation, with a requirement for yet more masts in residential areas. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that because the Government have accepted some £22 billion in payments from the third generation licence operators, they are particularly reluctant to change the law. However, I believe that the law does need to be changed to allow the precautionary principle recommended by the Government's own appointed expert to be taken into account, and to permit local authorities to take potential health effects fully into consideration when deciding on mobile phone mast applications. That is necessary not just to allay public fears, but to seek to restore integrity to the planning process, which is hopelessly lopsided when it tries to determine these issues.

I end by echoing the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) in support of the hospice movement, including Little Haven, which is in his constituency. It is a children's hospice, for which I had the privilege of opening a shop in Rayleigh just a few weeks ago. Hospices deserve much greater Government assistance for the very important work that they do. I add my support to the call tonight for them to receive more funding.

11.56 pm
Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

I am delighted to take part in the debate. It was in danger of becoming an all-Essex affair, with so many Essex boys in the Chamber.

I want to raise an issue that is important for my constituency and for Oxfordshire as a whole: that of adult placements, the social service function that is a form of foster care for those over 18. It is provided under the aegis of social services in Oxfordshire, as it is around the country.

I cannot mention social services without making a brief reference to the funding crisis that Oxfordshire faces. "Crisis" is an over-used word, but I believe that it applies to social service spending in the county of Oxfordshire. Although we are spending £20 million more than what the Government think we should spend—the standard spending assessment—damaging cuts are being made to home care, respite centres and other support for children. Many of the most vulnerable people in our community are suffering from such cuts. We have launched a campaign in Oxfordshire, particularly among Conservative Members, to ask the Government to think again about the funding of social services. That campaign will continue. The Government must react and relent.

The issue that I intend to raise tonight is not funding, but regulation. I say to the Deputy Leader of the House on the Front Bench that it is a matter which the Government can sort out. Adult placements are a very small part of social services provision in Oxfordshire, as they are in the rest of the country. The budget in Oxfordshire is less than £1 million, and it is not being cut. There are 94 carers in Oxfordshire who take adult placements, and they look after some 250 users across the county.

Who are the users? Some are people who were previously in foster homes with families, who have now turned 18; some come from care homes; some have learning or other difficulties; and some have been referred from the mental health care trust. They are all people who have had a difficult start in life. Many cannot cope entirely on their own, and need love and care. The people who look after them are, in my view, heroes and heroines in our society.

The carers provide care and love in their homes—not in an institution, but in a family and a home setting. They provide an excellent service not only for those who are placed there—people who have had a bad start in life—but for all of us. Just consider the huge cost if all those people had to be in institutions of one kind or another. It is therefore a service that we should support.

So what is the problem? Quite simply, it is that the providers of adult placements have been made subject to the Care Standards Act 2000 and must register with the National Care Standards Commission. I do not believe that the Government intended to over-regulate the sector. Indeed, in one of their many documents, "Care Homes for Younger Adults", they say: The Government is keen to support adult placement schemes and not to overburden individual carers attached to such schemes. Those are fine words, but I am afraid that what has happened is quite the opposite. The adult placements have been completely overburdened and the situation will get worse, as I hope to show.

We all want the highest standards in social services and proper safeguards. We all know what can go wrong if the wrong sort of people are put in charge or there are no proper inspections. Having considered the problem, however, I believe that it is unnecessary for adult placement providers to register with the National Care Standards Commission and to be registered under the Care Standards Act 2000.

On Friday, I met social services representatives in Oxford. They explained what happens to people who volunteer to take on an adult placement. They must be assessed in a process that involves more than 40 hours of interviews. They supply references from two referees, one of whom is interviewed by social services. Their home is visited by social services and the decision about whether they can take an adult placement is decided by a panel. It is right that the process is long, as those involved will be looking after vulnerable people in their own homes. Indeed, it resembles the process associated with adoption or becoming a foster parent, as it is very rigorous and involves the most rigorous checks. We can see that that already happens, even before we consider the Care Standards Act and the National Care Standards Commission—the new pieces of bureaucracy that the Government have put in the way of the adult placement service. That is why they are making a fundamental mistake. They are dealing not with care homes, but with the homes of ordinary people in which caring is taking place. Those two things are not the same.

I recognise that it is not enough to say that that extra bureaucracy is unnecessary; I want to show that it is damaging. I should like briefly to quote a letter that I received from social services: As information on the National Minimum Standards for adult placements and associated regulations is becoming available to Adult Placement Carers in the county, this has been generating considerable anxiety about the degree of responsibility placed on them as individuals, and the degree of intrusiveness within their own family lives. I repeat that these are ordinary people who are taking adult placements in their own homes. The letter continues: One of the department's Adult Placement Carers has already resigned, and many more are considering doing so. I must report that since that letter was written, we have lost six of our 94 carers. People who have been cared for in private homes will be put into institutions because of the new regulations and bureaucracy. Those are real people and they are subject to real effects. What is happening is not necessary and it is not progress.

I say to the Government that it is not too late to act and I shall suggest the remedy in a minute or two. First, I shall explain how the registration process and standards are causing the services to be withdrawn. I shall begin by pointing out the extent of the paperwork. Let us assume that we belong to a family that wants to take an adult placement. We have been in the process for many years and been inspected by social services, had the interviews and been in front of the panel. The matter has been agreed, but this new bureaucracy has suddenly come into our lives. First, we get a registration pack, which is about an inch thick. We then have to look through the national minimum standards for care homes, which are 75 pages long. We then receive the national minimum standards for adult placements, which are another 40 pages. As if that is not enough, we then have to read the care homes regulations, many of which apply to us—a further 27 pages. That is 142 pages landing on somebody's doormat. Imagine the impact on the families that have been providing adult placements for years, but suddenly face all that bureaucracy.

My next point concerns bureaucracy. At the end of the national minimum standards—I have been through them very carefully, as you would expect Mr. Deputy Speaker—there is a set of policies that someone accepting adult placements must accept. There are 33 of them. Let us remember that we are talking about a family home; it would have to accept policies on communicable diseases, infection control, equal opportunities and race equality, food safety and nutrition, individual planning and review, and whistleblowing—there has to be a policy on whistleblowing. An ordinary family must have policies on all those things.

Mr. Francois

That is madness.

Mr. Cameron

It is madness, as my hon. Friend says.

The third reason that all this is unnecessary and, more than that, damaging is the extra cost involved. I am talking about the extra cost not of bringing in the standards, but of registering. That used to be £1,000 per scheme, so the Oxfordshire scheme would have to register, and it would have cost £1,000. Under the new rules, each provider must register at a cost of £100. If there were 90 of them, that would cost £9,000. That is another extra cost for the providers of this very useful service.

Next, I shall deal with some of the policies and standards. I shall start with registration. Someone who wants to provide this service might already have been a foster parent for many years and their child might just have turned 18. They would get a document through their door from the National Care Standards Commission, which states: Applicants must provide the documentation and statements asked for, they must be able to demonstrate that they are suitable to provide or manage the service, and the proposed service is suitable to meet the needs of those who will be using it. That is tough stuff. They will have to do all those things. The next page of the document states: To be sure that your service can meet the standards for registration, you need to refer to: Care Standards Act 2000 Children Act 1989 National Minimum Standards—Care Homes for Older People and so it goes on and on. There are about 20 different long documents to which an ordinary family taking someone in would have to refer. I can think of nothing more likely to put off the people who provide that excellent service. There is evidence that that is already happening, and we are already seeing the service being withdrawn.

The rest of the standards—the minimum standards that the Government have produced—contain many sensible and good things. A lot are, I have to accept, a statement of the obvious. For example, standard 13 states: The registered person supports the service user to have access to and choose from a range of appropriate leisure activities. Those are statements of the obvious, and perhaps unnecessary if someone has already had their 40 hours from the social services department and been passed by a panel.

Some of the standards dwell slightly on the legalistic aspect and almost appear to be trying to set up a legal tension between the adult who is being placed and the person providing the service. There is a lot of talk about "Service User Plans", and I worry that the person being placed might feel that the process would be open to legal challenge. As I have said, however, it is not the standards that are wrong but the enormous amount of bureaucracy with which people providing this service will have to deal.

I say all this with some urgency, because I believe that things are going to get worse. I mentioned briefly the position of foster carers. Let us imagine foster carers with one or perhaps two children with them. When those children turn 18, the carers will suddenly have to register and do all those things. In one case in Oxfordshire, this has already happened; the parents have thrown in the towel and the child will have to go into an institution. It is a tragedy when that happens, because it is completely unnecessary.

The other reason I think things are going to get worse is—as Oxfordshire social services department has told me—that there are more standards to come. We shall have a whole new set of these things for domiciliary care—for when we are caring for someone in their home rather than in our own—and there will be yet another set of standards for day care.

Let us take the example of a registered provider who has adult placements. Let us assume that he or she cares for some people overnight in his or her own home, offers some day care, and sometimes goes to people's homes to provide domiciliary care for them. That provider will have to work through and be inspected under another three sets of standards.

The answer to this problem is simple: the Government should say that it is not necessary for adult placements to be registered under the Care Standards Act 2000, and that the Act does not apply to them. They should also not have to be inspected by the National Care Standards Commission, because they are already policed effectively by social services.

Let me give just one example—children's services. Each social services department's fostering scheme is regulated and registered by the new bodies, but that does not apply to each foster parent. Why can we not do the same in the case of adult placements? It makes sense. The services I have mentioned are dealt with in that way. Care homes, rightly, are registered nationally and must be inspected by the new bodies; foster parents are not. Surely the same should apply to adults.

I ask the deputy Leader of the House to consider this over the summer as a matter of urgency. I think that the Government have made a mistake. I do not think they meant to get it wrong; they simply opted for unnecessary over-regulation, which is damaging a service provided in Oxfordshire for some of the most vulnerable people—people who need our help. That is a tragedy that we could do without.

12.10 am
Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

I hope to make a speech that is rather different from those made by most Members tonight. Most of them have raised—as is their right—difficulties or worries relating to their constituencies. My purpose is different: I want to give the House some good news, which I hope all Members will use on behalf of male constituents in their early or middle sixties.

My constituent, Mr. Gordon Ashby, aged 63, falls into the group now entitled to the winter fuel payment following the ruling of the European Court on non-discrimination between the genders. On hearing that he might have a chance to claim the payment retrospectively, Mr. Ashby obtained the forms needed to enable him to make his application late in the spring of 2000. Unfortunately for him—and, obviously, for his wife—his wife became ill that year and had to go into hospital on several occasions.

Needless to say, Mr. Ashby's energies were mostly focused on looking after his wife. The forms that he had obtained in the spring were put aside until he had a better chance to fill them in and send them off. He did not send them off until July 2001, at which point the Benefits Agency turned down his claim on the ground that it was too late: it should have been returned by the statutory claim date of 31 March.

The form did not state that there was a cut-off date for the application. A letter accompanying the form sent to Mr. Ashby, dated 5 May 2000. merely said: It would be helpful if you could return your completed claim form, along with any supporting documents, within 4 weeks. Mr. Ashby allowed the four weeks to expire by a good many months, whereas the letter had merely said that it would be "helpful" for him to return the form.

When Mr. Ashby finally got round to claiming his payments in July 2001, he was amazed to find that he received his payments for the two previous years—because there was no cut-off date for those—but was denied a payment for 2000–01. It seemed logical to him that, after an initial payment had been made for earlier years, subsequent payments would be automatic, given that he had clearly reached the qualifying age. After all, sadly, none of us gets any younger as the years go by.

Mr. Ashby appealed against the decision. He went through the appeals system, right up to a tribunal. The tribunal, however—like all the earlier appeal bodies—upheld the original decision. Interestingly, in the decision made on 21 November 2001, the tribunal admitted that the explanatory note did not specify a deadline for returning the claim form. In dismissing the appeal, it nevertheless stated: This might be an instance when an ex gratia payment is appropriate. Sadly, despite that, no ex-gratia payment was made by the Benefits Agency.

In response to a letter from Mr. Ashby, who got in touch with me in January this year, I wrote to the Benefits Agency again on 5 February to raise his case. I received a reply from the Department for Work and Pensions on 14 March, but that simply reiterated the position as upheld on appeal—that Mr. Ashby's claim was disallowed because it was made after the statutory closing date.

Mr. Ashby was asked to send in the form within four weeks because it would be helpful. It was absurd that some months after that he should be told that there was a cut-off date. The next step was to take the matter to the parliamentary ombudsman, which we did on 8 April this year. By that stage, we had sent a number of letters, between us, to both the Benefits Agency and the Department; it was some eight months after the initial decision.

The ombudsman, as he always does, made some initial investigations and started talking to the Department. He has now sent me his final conclusions. I am delighted to say that he tells me that the Department for Work and Pensions has capitulated. Faced with the likelihood that the ombudsman would find this a clear case of maladministration, the Department has paid Mr. Ashby not only his £100 winter fuel payment, despite his late claim, but an extra, well-deserved £50 to compensate him for all the hassle that he has had to go through. A clear injustice has been rectified, although only after a year of trying.

Now we come to the real reason why I wanted to raise the issue. Potentially, there are implications for a very large number of other men of a similar age, who may have been misled by the Department's failure to make it clear that there was a closing deadline for claims—a cut-off point for sending applications. I hope that we can have an assurance from the Minister tonight that he will get the relevant Department to write to all the other men whose claims have been turned down because they were late, telling them that they can have their payments after all.

The Government are always keen to claim that they will ensure that everyone who should get benefit payments of any sort does so when they are due. They must know by now who all the claimants are who have been refused winter fuel payments because they made a late application for the years concerned. I urge the Government to put their money where their mouth is and to send the overdue payments to all those who so far have been wrongly denied.

12.18 am
Patrick Mercer (Newark)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel). I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) is no longer in the House as I thought his speech was both clear and extremely powerful. I hope to be able to follow him on an issue that is not a local matter but concerns the whole of the nation—probably the whole of the world, I regret to say.

It is clear that the much vaunted and signalled campaign in Iraq seems to be grinding inevitably into action. The United States President has made it fairly clear in speeches to West Point and other establishments that he intends to go to war in Iraq. With the departure of United States troops in Saudi Arabia, their seeking to go to other countries such as Qatar, and the rapprochement between America and Jordan, it is clear that American plans are well advanced but it raises the question: exactly where does this country stand? What decisions have been made by this country? What will be the fate of this country's men and women when and if we go to war alongside America?

I want to refer to three quotes from the Prime Minister. The first is from March this year: This is not something that just America is talking about. It is something we have to deal with. The second quote is also from March:

I think we have got to act…if we don't act, we may find out too late the potential for destruction. Only last week, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that the lesson of 11 September is that if there is a

gathering threat or danger, let us deal with it before it materialises, rather than afterwards. It seems clear to me that our Prime Minister has made a decision that we are going to act in concert with the United States of America in a war against Iraq. In fact, our forces are already in action against Iraq. Every day, our pilots risk their lives flying over Iraq. Every day, they come under fire to a greater or lesser extent.

Our senior military officers have made it clear to naval and other audiences that war is expected in the near future. The commanding officer designate's course, run at the school of infantry for majors and lieutenant-colonels who are going on to command battalions and regiments, was told by a senior military source that the officers must be prepared for active service within a few months.

Our troops are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. I am delighted, and I pay tribute to the work done by 45 Commando Royal Marines and by the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment and the first battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment over there. The soldiers and marines are now back in this country, regrouping, we assume, for further operations.

We also hear that our garrison in the Balkans is to be withdrawn, or at least heavily run down. What exactly are the plans for Macedonia? The NATO mandate for Operation Amber Fox runs out at the end of October. It is widely supposed that the Euro-army—the European security and defence policy troops—will get their first outing at that stage. Exactly where will British involvement lie? Currently, it is planned that British numbers in Macedonia and the southern part of the Balkans will fall. Should a Euro-group go into Macedonia, surely that will mean that British numbers have to increase. That cannot fit easily with what lies ahead, one assumes, in Iraq.

We also hear that reservists have been nominated to take over from regular soldiers in Afghanistan. To my best knowledge, that has not happened since a company group of Territorials took over work in the Falklands in the late 1980s. It is a wholly unusual move for reservists to be used in a theatre that is still highly dangerous.

I want to echo the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I am a walking example of the work of the Royal Hospital at Haslar. I may not be a very convincing instance of what it can do, but it certainly kept me up and running. I am worried by the state of the defence medical services, and he perhaps rather undersold the problem. If we are going to war in Iraq, we should have 14 field ambulances, but we have only three that are currently operational. The newspapers, at least, seem to think that a conflict is forthcoming—hence all their words about doctors and other medics standing by.

Last week, the Defence Secretary announced plans for additional defence spending. By anybody's estimate, it is a considerable tranche of money for the armed forces, not just for the war against terrorism, surely, but for whatever operations lie ahead.

I do not want to take a stance for or against the operation, but I believe that there are questions that the House needs answers to before our troops take part. For instance, what will be the size and shape of the coalition? Will only the United States and Great Britain take part? I hope not.

What form of initial settlement will there be in the middle east, before our troops sally forth into Iraq? What initiatives will come from America—and, indeed, from the Prime Minister—to solve this most difficult of problems? How will moderate Arab opinion be affected? What exactly is Iraq's involvement with weapons of mass destruction? I hear a lot and I am told a lot, but there is not actually much to see. Is there a real connection? Do we know, before the inspectors are allowed back in, what Iraq's potential is to strike with weapons of mass destruction?

What are the links between Iraq and terrorist organisations, if any? We have been told that the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda are largely assumed; they are not proven. What of the regime change of which we hear so much? If Saddam Hussein is indeed toppled, who will follow him? What treasure will it take from this country, and from the United States and the other allies, to prop up that regime? What guarantee have we that the next ruler will be any better than the one toppled?

I posit these questions for the simple reason that the House and the nation needs to know the answer to them before we take such measures any further. I understand that the alliance may well be sabre-rattling on a grand scale, and I applaud that. Bringing about defeat without destruction strikes me as both sensible and laudable, but I want to know the answers to these questions, and the House and the nation have a right to know them.

The last time that British troops were committed not to peacekeeping but to combat operations—in other words, when we sent 45 Commando to Afghanistan—the House was not consulted. I believe that that was wrong, and if we are to go down the route of war in Iraq, this House and the nation should have the chance to voice their opinion.

12.27 am
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

It is a pleasure to be able to address two issues. One is of interest to only a couple of my constituents, and the other is of interest to all of them—and, indeed, to the welfare of many of our fellow citizens on the mainland.

Mr. X, who is a United Kingdom citizen, met Mr. Y, who is a foreign national, on holiday in March 1998. They kept in touch, met again by arrangement and decided to live together. They decided that Mr. Y would come to England to study and to improve his English, and made such arrangements. Mr. Y entered this country in March 1999 on a student visa, and was given leave to remain until June 2000. Since his arrival, he has lived with Mr. X and has continued his studies.

In June 2000, Mr. Y applied for leave to remain on the basis of a subsisting relationship with a British citizen. His application was rejected, and an appeal was launched. It was rejected because, at the time that it was made—20 June 2000—Mr. X and Mr. Y had been living together in England for only 15 months. By the time of its rejection—28 September 2000—they had been living together for 18 months. They are more than able to maintain themselves, without recourse to the public purse. Four days later—2 October 2000—new immigration rules took effect. They set out 10 requirements to be met by an applicant seeking leave to remain as the unmarried partner of a British citizen.

In this case, nine of the 10 requirements were met. The only one that was not—immigration rule paragraph 295D(vi)—requires that the appellant and his partner have been living together in a relationship akin to marriage which has subsisted for two years or more". The adjudicator had no problem with the meaning of "two years"; the problem was when that was to be assessed. At the time of the adjudication, the relationship had persisted for two years and seven months. The adjudicator asked for specific assistance in identifying authority, in terms of when that period should be measured, but writes: None has been forthcoming … I have found no authority on the issue myself. The Home Office concedes that this is a genuine relationship. The couple have numerous letters of support from friends, neighbours, family and employers; theirs is clearly an exclusive, stable and loving relationship. The adjudicator makes the point that Mr. Y could have sought to extend his student visa, waited a few more months and then applied in March 2001. The adjudicator says:

I fail to see how, in good conscience, he should be penalised for rejecting such an easy subterfuge … Were he to apply now … I would expect him to be successful. He points out that the decision was made only a matter of days before the European convention on human rights came into force. Finally, the adjudicator says:

It ill behoves the Government to compel couples to engage in subterfuge in order to comply with Home Office criteria … I would he ashamed as a representative of the British system of justice to think the Secretary of State would feel justified in taking a narrow and pointless view of this circumstance.? The implication is that he would be doing so, were he to reject the application.

I wrote to Lord Rooker on 6 February on those two points. I wrote again on 18 March and again on 1 May, but I have received no reply. I wrote on 9 May asking for a meeting, but I have had no reply, despite the fact that I was supported by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). In a letter dated 17 May, he says that he believes that a gross injustice is being done here. I wrote to the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration on 24 June, and the right hon. Gentleman wrote on 25 June, asking for a meeting, and again I have had no reply. Still I have heard nothing.

Mr. X and Mr. Y have been very patient, persistent and wholly honourable in their use of the immigration procedures. I urge the Minister to ask his hon. Friends to get to grips with their responsibilities and make the necessary decisions.

The second issue is a much more public matter. On 8 March, a drug smuggler was jailed for 26 years for leading an operation to bring a record £90 million consignment of cocaine into Britain by yacht. He and five of his accomplices were caught by 150 Customs officers on the Isle of Wight after the smugglers' landing was hampered by storms at the end of a 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic from the Caribbean. They had planned to unload 879 lb of cocaine on a private beach at Orchard Bay house near Ventnor, but the weather and the failure of their outboard motor forced them to deposit their cargo on another beach at Windy bay, about a mile away. They were trapped and arrested after members of the gang had spent hours carrying large bales of cocaine along a treacherous cliff-top path to their destination.

Officials knew about the smuggling because the men had been kept under surveillance by excise men from the Cowes Customs house, among others. I understand that the smuggler had paid £657,000 for the Orchard Bay property. Customs officers on the island had been tipped off that something big was about to happen, and Operation Eyeful, which was a joint investigation with the National Crime Squad, began. It resulted in the successful apprehension of five smugglers.

The right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) was customs Minister at the time and he welcomed the conviction, saying: This is an excellent result for Customs and the National Crime Squad and demonstrates that by working abroad as well as at home, we can have a huge impact on class A drugs in the UK. Therefore it is extraordinary that it should now be proposed that the customs facility on the island should be withdrawn to the mainland. That proposal has met with astonishment and incredulity from all quarters on the island. It is inconceivable that people who are not based on the island could have access to the intelligence that is required in that small community. Those who turn up from the mainland in a motor car with London number plates are unlikely to be as effective as island-based Customs officers in obtaining the necessary information about what is going on. That is the first point.

Secondly, Cowes is in the process of developing still further as the world's centre of yachting, and a great deal of effort is being made to build up the businesses there. The Customs officers in the Customs house do a bit of all sorts of different things, some of it related directly to Customs and some to immigration because there is no one else there. They provide Customs clearance for boats, which is especially important during the yachting season. They deal with all non-EU traffic and some intra-EU commercial traffic needs for Customs documentation, and they provide import and export document processing. which enables local businesses to have manual endorsement. Finally, the officers carry out checks on movements of small craft and light aeroplanes, using small boats. That is an important role and not one that can easily be done from a base on the mainland.

Thirdly, much smuggling still happens in the UK, particularly along the south coast through what are called non-canalised points of entry. It is easy to know when people are smuggling when they are going through channels that are conveniently marked red and green in places such as Dover. It is rather less easy to be sure of what is going on along the 57 miles of the coastline of my constituency. The Lord Lieutenant of the island, Mr. Christoper Bland, wrote in the Isle of Wight County Press: I have no doubt we should hang on to the presence"— that is, of Customs and Excise—

on the Isle of Wight. The island has traditionally been a haven for smuggling and I do not think that anything has changed. It used to be alcohol but now it is drugs and you need people on the ground to combat that. You cannot make arrests electronically. This is especially apposite in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said.

That has been added to by the high sheriff of the island, Anne Springman, who reminds me that in the old days the high sheriff was Customs and Excise and a great many other things besides. She points out that the Isle of Wight has been a high-risk area for smuggling over the last 500 years. That has been the position, if not for longer. A number of Mrs. Springman's forebears have been high sheriff of the island over that period. She should know. She says:

To remove the presence of Customs and Excise Officers for any reasons seems to be absolute madness and leaves the Island as the unguarded gateway into the UK. It is not only in the interests of my constituents that I am asking for the Government to take action to ensure that the Customs house in Cowes remains open. That is also in the interests of citizens throughout the kingdom. I ask the Minister to promise before the House rises for the recess that the Customs house will still be open when the recess ends.

12.38 am
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I have no illusions at this hour that the House is anxious to hear what I have to say about the debate. Having listened to most of the debate, I know that questions were rightly addressed to the Minister, and colleagues will want to listen to his words. However, it has been noticeable that a number of issues have been raised again and again during the debate by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would be convenient—it might even help the Minister—if I took a few minutes to put these issues into their different categories.

The issue of regeneration was raised in different ways by the hon. Members for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). The hon. Member for Hull, North asked, interestingly, for the demolition of a number of properties to aid a regeneration project, while the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire talked about the closure of a mine and a jobcentre.

The reason why those matters are important to hon. Members and their constituencies and the context in which they were proposed is that it would appear that the Government's regeneration efforts are not having the desired effect on the ground in the areas where that should be happening. It is therefore absolutely appropriate for hon. Members to raise the issue to try to ensure that what happens on the ground reflects the rhetoric that we hear nationally.

A similar thing occurs if one considers what I have broadly defined as planning issues. That definition subsumes housing and telecommunications masts, which more than one of my hon. Friends mentioned. I noted that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friends the Members for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Castle Point (Bob Spink) expressed their anxieties—all in their different ways—about the possible impact of the recent rather fuzzy and ill-defined announcements made by the Deputy Prime Minister on housing, for example, and about the likely impact on my hon. Friends' constituencies in particular.

At the same time, very real concerns are now arising in my constituency about the apparently uncontrolled development of telecommunications masts—something with which the Government claim to have dealt, although it is perfectly obvious from what my hon. Friends have said that the issue is not being dealt with on the ground and that it is still causing very considerable worry.

The subject of roads came up over and again. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) was the first to mention them. The A303 was then mentioned by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but other hon. Members claimed some interest in the A303, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) then connected the A30 to that.

I know that part of the country only slightly, but I drove down those roads recently. That was a very pleasurable experience for me, but it is perfectly obvious that it is not always a pleasurable experience. The Minister has an interest in that matter as well, so I would expect him to give a very full and informed reply about the A30, A303 and connected roads because his constituents want to hear about it, too. That matter will therefore claim the particular attention of the House.

Health—in particular, hospices—was mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends. In particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point, for Rayleigh and for Tiverton and Honiton mentioned hospices. I have a constituency interest in the issue, and it interests and worries many hon. Members because there is a feeling that the hospice movement has been shortchanged by the Government. We are repeatedly told that huge amounts of money are going into the national health service, but we would like to hear how much of it is going to hospices, because they must surely have an equal claim on the moneys that go to health and other areas—not least, to the defence medical services, which were mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer).

It would appear that those services are now in a state of critical decline. Again, given the boastful nature of what Ministers have said recently about the defence budget generally, I would hope that the Minister could give some reassurance that defence medical services will receive some of that money.

Under the heading of constituency issues, but rather unusually as this stands on its own, was the point about arms exports made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). Again, it appears that the Government are getting into a real muddle about arms exports. The issue is certainly global, but my hon. Friend asked some very specific questions about two specific cases, and I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that they will at least be considered in the DTI and dealt with properly.

Schools were a subject raised by my hon. Friends the Members for West Derbyshire and for Tiverton and Honiton and by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). There are real local problems with regard to schools. What seems to be happening is that schools are being obstructed and bedevilled by what the Opposition consider to be the centralising tendency. I am delighted to see the Minister for School Standards sitting in his place. I suspect that he is probably here to answer the short Adjournment debate, but I am glad to see him because he should know that bureaucracy is causing a number of real problems in schools, so I hope that he will study this debate tomorrow and get his official to do so.

Mrs. Browning

I think it fair to say that it was the Minister for School Standards, now in his place on the Treasury Bench, who after two months declined to see me to discuss the important issue of Uffculme school.

Mr. Forth

I am shocked to hear that. I cannot remember in my five years as an Education Minister ever refusing to meet a Member of Parliament, and I hope that it is not going to become the practice of Ministers, even keen, fresh, newly appointed Ministers—in fact, especially not them—to refuse to meet my hon. Friend. I am sure that it was an oversight and that the Minister has made a careful note—in fact, I see him doing so. I expect that my hon. Friend will get an invitation tomorrow—now that I look at the clock, today—to meet him.

I shall briefly mention what I describe as more generic policy issues that were raised by several hon. Members, confining myself to those who have had the courtesy to return to the Chamber for the winding-up speeches. We heard two particularly knowledgeable and deeply felt speeches from the hon. Members for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) and for South Antrim (David Burnside). I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office listened carefully to their speeches. Whenever our colleagues from Northern Ireland speak, we should all listen to what they say.

The hon. Member for South Antrim made the point that those of us who represent English constituencies should be careful in our pronouncements about matters relating to Northern Ireland, and we should listen that much more carefully when we are given both an update and an analysis by Northern Ireland Members, especially in these most difficult times. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary listened to the points made about the Belfast agreement, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the current extremely stressful circumstances in Northern Ireland. This debate provided an opportunity to get those messages across.

The hon. Member for Manchester. Blackley (Mr. Stringer) spoke about a far more positive matter, the Commonwealth games, to which I am sure we are all eagerly looking forward, and Manchester's success in mounting a world-class sports event. Although, as a London Member, I slightly regret the comparison that he made with London, we have to acknowledge that the London aspect of our national sporting effort has gone badly and repeatedly wrong. I wish that the Government could engineer the same success for London—and, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, for Birmingham and this land's other great cities—as we have happily seen achieved in Manchester. I hope that the lesson can be learned and that we can build on it, and that Manchester can build on its success following the Commonwealth games.

Care homes were discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Witchell) and others. The Parliamentary Secretary will understand that so repeatedly is that matter being raised now that it is one to which the Government must turn their attention. We do not want spin or the sort of silly assertions that have been made that everything is all right and there is more money in the Budget; our point is that it is the regulatory regime that is driving care homes out of business and denying places to elderly folk who need them so much.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark took us into foreign and defence policy, raising several important questions about our potential involvement in Iraq and Macedonia. Those matters will be raised more frequently in future, because there is a feeling of anxiety, which was reflected in my hon. Friend's remarks. With the House about to go into the long summer recess, we are all nervous that some of those matters might be progressed rather rapidly without the House being able to have any input. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something to us about that. At the very least, Members on both sides of the House would want to be reassured that such matters will not be dealt with in the absence of any parliamentary input or involvement. The subject causes great anxiety among Members of all parties—not least, I suspect, among Government Members.

If my hon. Friends will forgive me, I think I have said quite enough. I have tried to do justice to a long, good debate; I counted 27 contributions to it. The sheer scale of interest in and contribution to the debate has, if nothing else, fully justified the stance that we on the Opposition Benches took in opposing the Government's attempt to restrict this debate to a pathetic and minuscule three hours. I therefore hope that the Government, and the Minister in particular, as he has influence in these matters, will have realised the interest in such Adjournment debates and will from now on follow this example and allow the debate to find its own length.

Having said that, I look forward along with the rest of the House to hearing the Minister's detailed reply to the points made in the debate.

12.51 am
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

Many issues have been raised during 28 speeches and several hours of what has been a very civilised and highly interesting debate that has ranged from the future of Cyprus to the difficulty of finding health insurance for bees. I shall do my best to respond to as many issues as I can. If I am unable to do so, I shall pass hon. Members' comments to ministerial colleagues and ask for a full response to be sent to them as soon as possible.

I congratulate all those who have played their part in contributing to this evening's debate. All Members present have been prepared to stay late and wait—some for a long time—for the chance to speak on behalf of their constituents, which I hope will be appreciated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke at some length and with a depth of knowledge about regeneration in his constituency and especially the problems faced at the moment by Orchard Park. Many of us can quote examples—I can certainly do so from my constituency—of very welcome regeneration schemes over the past few years. He specifically asked about the problems with the delay of demolition of housing in Orchard Park, and asked me to draw that to Ministers' attention. I am very happy to do so.

My hon. Friend also had some words of criticism for the Liberal Democrat local council, which he felt had failed to use the LIFT scheme to improve health care in the area, which would have brought not just health benefits but a number of other benefits in a series of public sector areas. That is another question that I shall be happy to draw to Ministers' attention on his behalf.

The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) has been particularly assiduous in attending the whole of the debate given that, as I understand it, this is sadly her last Parliament, so she is not even seeking re-election. She made a number of points, mentioning along with other Members the funding formula for local government. I stress that a consultation process is being conducted; we are all faced in our various local authority areas with a number of options. I urge hon. Members to make their feelings plain to the Government during the consultation process.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has assured Members that there will be a chance to debate that matter as soon as we return in October. I am sure that Members will want to make the points that they have made today at greater length then. I simply point out that some of the changes in the margins about which people are worried pale into insignificance given the enormous overall increases in public investment that this Government have promised.

The right hon. Lady made a number of specific points about her local health service. I should point out to her that in March 1997, 31,000 patients had been waiting for more than a year. That figure had come down to 20,000 by May this year. The number of those waiting for more than 15 months was 5,000 in 1997, and was down to 334 by May 2002. As the right hon. Lady probably knows, the Government are committed to reducing waiting times to six months by 2005.

The right hon. Lady raised a number of issues: whether the Haslemere community hospital was secure; that people wanted a local care centre in Godalming; and whether the A3 Hindhead tunnel scheme was on time. I shall be happy to obtain responses from Ministers to those specific questions on her behalf. As with health, the transport decisions that she wants for her constituency depend on investment. As I am sure she and Opposition Members are aware, their party is not committed to matching our spending, except on defence and international development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) spoke about a serious problem in his constituency—empty houses. He told us that he had raised the issue 300 times. A number of us on both sides of the House would be grateful for his problem. I hope that he was encouraged by the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister last week and by the fact that investment in housing will be £4 billion, compared with only £1.5 billion when Labour came to power in 1997. The Government are aware of the problem. We all realise that housing has moved rapidly up the political agenda.

My hon. Friend also asked for a public inquiry into a court case in his constituency. The Government do not want to comment on the case until the outcome of the police disciplinary action is known, but I shall certainly pass on his concerns to the Ministers responsible.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised a number of points, including foot and mouth, which we discussed at some length earlier after the statement. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware of the feeling in the House that there should be a fuller debate when we return in the autumn.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome spoke about the funding formula, which I have already touched on. I urge him to make his feelings plain as part of the consultation process. Like a number of other Members, he referred to the problems in the care home sector. He and several other Members were kind enough to acknowledge that the main problem is the level of fees, rather than—as the Leader of the Opposition suggested recently—the new standards that are being introduced. The best solution to the fee increases is more investment. That investment, too, has not so far been matched by the Opposition. Indeed when we increased real-terms investment in social services by 6 per cent. this year, it was opposed by the official Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman was the first of several Members who spoke about road schemes in the south-west. He spoke about the A303 and about the A350 which runs between his constituency and Taunton. He will be aware that the regional assembly in the south-west has rejected the main premise of the SWARMMS report and I am sure that the Government will listen with great care to what the assembly has said.

I was not sure from the hon. Gentleman's speech whether his point about the Sparkford to Ilchester section of the A303 was a local or a trunk spending issue. If it is a local issue, it is for his county council to order its priorities. I hope, however, that he welcomes the extra investment that the Government are making in transport infrastructure in general and in roads in particular.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) did the House a great service by reminding us that the Commonwealth games start shortly and that they are based in his constituency. Our thanks go to him for all his work both as leader of the council and as a Member of Parliament to secure Manchester's bid. The games are a huge logistical exercise, but I am sure that Manchester will meet the challenge extremely well.

It has been a great summer for British sports people in the World cup and at Wimbledon. To a certain extent, the achievements of our athletes so far have been under-reported, but I hope that Manchester will make up for that. I am sure that my ministerial colleagues will have heard what my hon. Friend said about his hope that in future Manchester may be an Olympic host.

The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) raised local government finance and the redrawing of the boundary of Ecclesbourne school in his constituency. He said that both the city and county councils agreed with local people, but that that decision was thrown out by the adjudicator and there was no appeal. I was surprised to learn that an appeal could not go to the Secretary of State, and I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to look into the matter, as the situation is surely not unique to the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There may be good reasons why a system was set up in which politicians are removed from decisions about education, but nevertheless that is strange, so I promise to look into it on the hon. Gentleman's behalf.

The hon. Gentleman raised the problem of the A50 link road in his constituency, which he acknowledged had brought benefits as well as concomitant problems. That tends to be a complication with new roads and improved roads—one problem is solved, but another is created. The hon. Gentleman, like my neighbour, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), raised the problem of a noisy concrete road surface. I shall come on to the specifics of the A30 a bit later, but I remind both Members that those roads were ordered in that form of concrete by the previous Government, and that this Government promised to get rid of them and have come up with the investment to do so. I am sorry that the time scale is not quick enough for the hon. Member for West Derbyshire, but we have pledged to replace those noisy concrete roads and shall do so. I will also make sure that the Minister responsible is aware of his concern about national parks and the representation, in his case, of the Peak district, where many different local authorities are involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) raised the significant problems faced by many of our constituents in connection with obtaining visitors visas in India and Pakistan. He rightly said that that is a huge operation as it is currently the wedding season, when traditionally there are large numbers of applications. In the current tense stand-off between India and Pakistan, the measures that the Government have had to introduce have had a serious impact on our ability to deliver a good service. My hon. Friend made the point that we have set up a drop box system, and people who have already visited the United Kingdom should not experience enormous problems coming here again. However, there is a genuine problem for people who have not applied for a visa before, and I shall certainly speak to my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether the situation can be improved as the tension between those two countries eases. It is, however, the responsibility of any Foreign Secretary to ensure that the safety of British staff and their dependants is paramount. The situation between India and Pakistan has been worrying and it is by no means over yet. My hon. Friend mentioned that he would meet my successor at the Foreign Office on Wednesday, and I am sure that he will raise his concerns with him then.

My hon. Friend also raised the problem of travel advice. I agree that it is incredibly important that the Foreign Office update its travel advice quickly when a situation changes—there is no point in people being deterred from visiting a place when it is perfectly safe to do so. Again, however, the Government have a responsibility to try to maximise the safety of British citizens.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of the Hamilton estate, an expanding estate in his constituency, and planning gain. I am sure that my ministerial colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will have heard what he said, but I shall certainly write to them to pass on his concerns. Many of us have probably had a similar experience in our constituencies—we feel that local authorities have not extracted as much as they might have done from developers or that the developers have not delivered what they promised. I hope that the position will be improved by some of the changes that the Government are proposing to introduce.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) raised a number of issues concerning local firms in his constituency that had experienced difficulty in rapidly obtaining export licences for equipment. That is a serious issue, particularly where local firms are put under threat. The hon. Gentleman will understand that more than one Government Department takes such decisions, which sometimes leads to delay. The Government must adhere to the consolidated criteria. The hon. Gentleman will recall that in the Quadripartite Committee report to which he referred, criticisms were made that the Government had been too lax in their granting of export licences to India and Pakistan during the period in question.

It is important that the Government pay attention to those criteria, but it is also important that decisions be made quickly, even if they are negative. Most firms, rather than being kept in limbo, would like to know quickly whether an export licence is likely to be granted to them. On the specific licences to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I will ask the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office to give him a response as quickly as possible. I know that the Prime Minister is extremely keen that the process be speeded up and that Departments keep to the guidelines that they have set themselves. We must also be aware of the concerns in many parts of the House that equipment should not be exported to parts of the world where it could be used in contravention of the guidelines to which we have signed up.

The hon. Member for Christchurch raised the problem of disease in bees, and the problems that one of his constituents had encountered in organising a voluntary insurance scheme for bee-keepers. The Government welcome the efforts of Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd. to encourage bee-keepers to play their part in the identification of notifiable bee diseases, and to bring any suspected incidence of those to the attention of the Central Science Laboratory's national bee unit. Because the fragmented nature of the sector makes concerted bee health action difficult for bee-keepers, we are spending about £1.4 million in England this year on our bee health programme.

The payment of filing fees is the responsibility of the Financial Services Authority, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. I believe that the FSA has consulted the finance industry on several occasions concerning its fee-raising arrangements. Payments of insurance contributions to the financial services compensation scheme, which was created under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, are a matter for the FSCS. The payments are applicable to all DTI-approved insurance companies. I understand that the secretary of Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd. has been in correspondence with the FSCS about the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) was exercised about the takeover of a local firm. If I remember rightly, he said that the firm had closed as a result. He was also concerned about the general health of manufacturing industry in his constituency. Manufacturing productivity is 12 per cent. higher now than it was in 1997. What matters most to manufacturing industry is a stable economy, a good regional policy and infrastructure investment, and the Government are strongly committed to all three.

My hon. Friend raised the matter of the Eckington Moorside mine and the fact that it was under threat. The Government are aware of the position and we are urgently considering possible solutions to the immediate problems of Moorside and to the general problems of the coal industry in relation to employer liability insurance. There are no quick-fix answers, but we are examining the matter closely. We are monitoring the generic problem faced by a number of sectors in securing employers liability insurance. My hon. Friend also raised the problem of the Eckington jobcentre being under threat. I will happily take that up with the Minister responsible.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was the first of several hon. Members to raise the problem of mobile telephone masts. He referred to the Stewart report. There is some misunderstanding about that. Although there has been a report, Professor Stewart is still conducting his investigations. As and when he comes up with more hard-and-fast research, the Government will release it. This is a difficult issue for Government. A balance must be struck between consumers' desire to own mobile telephones and the environmental and possible health impacts of telephone masts. From the number of hon. Members who raised the issue tonight, it is clearly one about which our constituents are extremely concerned. I shall certainly draw their concerns to the attention of the Minister responsible

At a recent meeting in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton—I think that it occurred in Tiverton town hall and that she may have helped to set it up—one of the members of the committee working under Professor Stewart, Professor Lawrie Challis, said: When you look at the intensity from a mast 50m away, which is the worst position for you to be in, the actual intensity … is 5,000 times less than that from a mobile phone.

Mrs. Browning

For the record, I think that the Minister will find that the research that is being done after the Stewart report is not on the safety of masts, but on that of mobile phones, which is very different.

Mr. Bradshaw

I think that the hon. Lady will find that Professor Stewart is not restricting himself to the safety of telephones, but I shall certainly correct myself if I am wrong by writing to her.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford also referred to housing, which was mentioned by a number of hon. Members—especially those representing constituencies in the south-east that are likely to be affected by some of the announcements that the Government made last week. Again, a balance needs to be struck between his desire to protect the environment of his constituency and the need for affordable housing, which I am sure is shared by his constituents. Most hon. Members recognise that we have a challenge on our hands with regard to housing, that more housing will be needed and that some difficult decisions will have to be made. However, I shall certainly pass on his particular concerns to the Minister who is responsible for those matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) referred to education funding and pointed out that Stafford was hoping to do well in the Britain in Bloom competition. I am sure that we all share his hopes in that regard. On his point about education funding, as I have mentioned, consultations are currently under way, and I am sure that he will stand up vigorously for his constituency. He also commended the parliamentary education unit and paid tribute to the work that it does, especially in the summer. He might like to know that I shall be involved in some of the unit's work by participating in a question and answer session, as I always do. I join him in paying tribute to the excellent work of the unit.

My hon. Friend offered to provide all hon. Members with a citizenship pack. That would be extremely useful; I know that many of our constituents and schools are very excited about the prospect of beginning the compulsory citizenship courses when they are introduced in September. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to visit their schools and engage with young people. All the research shows that when MPs personally engage with young people, they tend to take a rather more positive view of politics and political engagement.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gill an), in what I thought was an uncharacteristically partisan speech, gave us a catalogue of misery that her constituents were apparently suffering as a result of the Government having it in for her constituency. I cannot believe that her constituency has not benefited from some of the measures that the Government have introduced, such as the stable economy, rising living standards and increased investment in her schools, the NHS and other public services. She made similar points about local government formulae, which I hope I have already addressed. She also raised the very difficult issue of problems caused by travellers. I hope that she recognises that the Government have tightened up that issue already and are planning to take further measures that will make it easier to deal with travellers who cause problems.

The hon. Lady graciously acknowledged that burglary and robbery were down in her constituency, but highlighted a problem that a number of hon. Members outside the Met area have been having with police numbers, as they are finding that police officers are being attracted to the Met by the inducements that are being offered to solve its recruitment problems. The Home Secretary acknowledged that problem in making his statement to the House about the comprehensive spending review, so I can assure the hon. Lady that he is aware of it. I remind her that crime has fallen nationally by 23 per cent. since 1997, whereas it doubled under the previous Conservative Government. As with health, education and all the other public services, we need to invest—if we are to get crime down, we need to invest in the police. I point out to her that her party is not committed to matching our spending plans on the police.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) raised a number of Home Office issues, all of them very important. She wanted an extension for antisocial behaviour orders, and reform of rape law, about which she has spoken eloquently in the House before. She was also concerned about fireworks, as are we all. The Government are considering what further measures can be introduced to control fireworks and replica guns. I shall be happy to take up all those issues with the Home Office on behalf of my hon. Friend.

The hon. Members for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) and for South Antrim (David Burnside) both spoke, understandably, on the future of the Belfast agreement. They spoke with passion and conviction, representing the views of at least some of their constituents, and I am sure that the Ministers responsible will read their comments with interest. There will be a statement—on Wednesday this week, I believe—by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I hope that the hon. Members will avail themselves of the opportunity to be here and to make the same points to him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) made a passionate speech about the behaviour of oil companies in the developing world, and made specific allegations about the behaviour of BP in Colombia, based, I believe, on an article that he had read in a Labour Left Briefing. I shall not respond directly to those allegations, because I was not aware of them before. I shall, however, draw them to the attention of the Foreign Office Minister responsible for that part of the world, and get him to respond to them. I would say, however, that, in my experience, the role of the British oil companies in the world is a responsible one. It is not in their interests to upset local populations or Governments. From my experience in the parts of the world for which I was responsible before I took on this job, the oil companies do a very good job. They are welcomed by local people and by Governments, and they have a very high consciousness of the need to act responsibly. I shall certainly look into the specific allegations that my hon. Friend has raised, however.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the issue of the Royal Hospital, Haslar—I hope that that is the correct pronunciation. The Ministry of Defence has provided me with a statement on this matter. It has decided to close the Royal Hospital because the hospital does not have sufficient patient volume and casemix to be viable as a stand-alone facility. The Ministry has also said that

Haslar will not close until the new MOD Hospital Unit is opened at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham. The MOD Hospital Unit will form part of the redevelopment of the Queen Alexandra Hospital by the Portsmouth Hospitals Trust … Final closure of Haslar will depend on progress on the redevelopment project, which is currently expected to be completed towards the end of 2007. The establishment of an NHS Diagnostic and Treatment Centre at Haslar does not affect the decision to close the hospital as a military facility. All that might already be known to the hon. Gentleman, but I will certainly pass on the points that he made tonight to my hon. Friends in the Ministry of Defence, and if there are any points that I have not responded to properly, I hope that they will do so.

I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, although I am not sure that he was right to say that there is a policing crisis in Cornwall. My constituency of Exeter is also covered by the Devon and Cornwall police and, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we are one of the many areas of the country that is currently enjoying record numbers of police officers. Spending on policing has risen 20 per cent. since 1997 in Devon and Cornwall, and crime is down by more than the national average of 23 per cent. The hon. Gentleman also made some interesting points on the future of party funding. I welcome that debate, but I do not think that tonight is the time to have it.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised a number of local issues. He was the first Member to mention the situation facing hospices, which was subsequently raised by a number of other hon. Members. I know from conversations that I have had with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health that he is aware of hon. Members' concerns on this matter, but I shall certainly pass on the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised. I think that I am right in remembering the Secretary of State for Health saying that the Government were committed to increasing the proportion of spending on hospices that comes from the public purse, but I will certainly check on that and write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can.

The hon. Gentleman will await the statement on airports tomorrow; I do not intend to say any more about that tonight. He went on to raise the problem of homelessness in his constituency, and of families living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. In the next breath, however, he argued against extra housing. There was something slightly contradictory about that, but let me deal with the problem of people staying in bed and breakfasts. There will be more homes and, in particular, more affordable homes. I remind the hon. Gentleman that under this Government the incidence of rough sleeping has halved, thanks to our rough sleepers initiative.

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not say anything about Cyprus; I will simply pass on his points to the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain). I am sure that my right hon. Friend will respond in due course.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) drew attention to early-day motion 1670, relating to care homes in Birmingham. He acknowledged that the level of fees was the problem, rather than care standards, but let me say to him and to others who raised the problem of care homes that the high capital values of the properties has also played a significant role in the selling or marketing of a number of them—as has the Government's increased use of home care packages, which many elderly people want. The answer to increased fees is increased investment in social services, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will put pressure on his own Front Bench to match our spending plans.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a social services problem in Birmingham. I did not know of it, but I will certainly draw it to the attention of my ministerial colleagues. He also asked for a specific answer to the question of home visits for pensioners. Again, I will ask my colleagues to clarify what he described as a discrepancy between what Ministers had said and what officials had said. I know, however, that a Minister has been told: Where a pensioner requires a home visit, we expect to be able to provide one?. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman somewhat.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) raised a number of issues. I apologise for not being present for all of his speech: he is the only Member to whom that applies. Let me touch on two issues he raised that were not raised by others. The first is cruelty to animals, and the fact that the police in his constituency were not taking as much action as he would like. Essex is another part of the country that has a record number of police officers. I am sorry if they are not taking the issue of animal cruelty seriously enough. I think we all know how seriously our constituents take it, and how upset they are by reports such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The second issue is that of people talking on mobile telephones while driving. That is a bugbear of mine: every day when I cycle in and out of this place I witness people driving badly—not concentrating, perhaps driving with one hand on the wheel—while speaking on mobile phones. It is very dangerous. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is possible under existing legislation to prosecute people who use mobile phones while driving, but the Government are considering whether it would be a good idea to introduce a specific offence. I am sure that the Ministers responsible will report to the House when they reach decisions.

My neighbour, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, raised the question of the A30 resurfacing. I congratulate her on her active campaign, and that of Maureen Jones and her other constituents. Let me tell her what I told the hon. Member for West Derbyshire: a Conservative Government commissioned the building of the roads using that horrible loud concrete, and a Labour Government have said that they will get rid of them. I am sorry if it is taking too long. It is taking longer than many of us would like, but the Government have committed the money and committed themselves to the resurfacing. We all hope that that will happen sooner or later, but again let me suggest that those who want it to happen sooner should support our spending plans.

As for Uffculme school, the Minister for School Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who arrived in a very timely fashion, will have heard how outraged the hon. Lady was at being refused a meeting with him. Funding for schools in Devon has risen by £550 per pupil since the 1997 general election, and following the comprehensive spending review it will increase even more.

I share the hon. Lady's concern about hospice care. Hospices do an excellent job in Exeter—I know many of those involved—and I will take up not just the local issue but the issue of national funding with the Minister responsible. I think I am right in saying, however, that the Government have committed themselves to increasing the proportion of spending on hospice care from the public purse.

On access to broadband, the hon. Lady is right: it is a commercial decision for BT. However, I will speak to my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and see what more can be done in that respect.

All hon. Members will share the hon. Lady's frustration at the time it takes for some Ministers in some Departments to reply to letters. I would like to think that I was not guilty of that in my previous job and I hope I am not guilty of it in my current one. I do not think that the point can be made too often in this place that hon. Members should have prompt replies to letters.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) repeated a point he made about a week ago about search charges. The Government take that matter seriously. We are aware of the problem and have acknowledged that there is genuine interest in the matter. I will draw to the attention of the Minister responsible the more recent hiccups to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. He also spoke about mobile phone masts and pointed out that the roll-out of the next generation will cause more problems. It is something that will not go away, and I am sure Ministers' minds will be concentrated by the number of hon. Members who have raised that matter in the debate.

The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) raised the general question of social services funding, which I hope I have dealt with, and then made interesting and serious points about the impact of regulation on adult services in his constituency and nationally—an impact that he felt the Government did not intend following the introduction of the Care Standards Act 2000. I will make those concerns plain to the Minister responsible and ask him to respond to the hon. Gentleman's concerns as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) raised the case of his constituent, Gordon Ashby, who I am pleased to say has now benefited fully from the Government's winter fuel payments. I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the House's attention to the popularity of the payments and indeed everything else that the Government have done to help to alleviate pensioner poverty. I am glad that his constituent's story had a happy ending and I am sure that it was in no small part due to the excellent job that he did on his constituent's behalf. I will draw the result of his campaign to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Department responsible and ask them whether there are any implications for people who may be in the same situation.

The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made a speech about speculation about military action against Saddam Hussein. I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said at the Liaison Committee last week but he and other right hon. and hon. Friends have constantly reassured hon. Members on both sides of the House that if and when any decisions are made the House will have ample opportunity to debate them.

The hon. Gentleman congratulated our armed forces on the excellent job that they have done in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. I associate myself entirely with those remarks. I share his hope that we can make progress in the middle east peace process, which is vital not just for the region but for world security. I was pleased that he welcomed the Government's big increase in defence spending.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) raised a problem concerning one of his constituents, who is having problems getting a residency for—

Mrs. Browning

I realise the hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of his remarks. I just wanted to say how appreciative the House is of the full and detailed reply that he has given to the debate.

Mr. Bradshaw

It is very kind of the hon. Lady. One always comes under some pressure to be as quick as possible, particularly when other hon. Members are waiting patiently, but I am grateful for her remarks. I have not finished quite yet.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight raised a serious point. I was slightly puzzled, because my understanding of the new rules was that Ministers would look flexibly at the co-habitation requirement. One of the problems for unmarried couples—same-sex or heterosexual couples—is that to meet the two-year cohabitation requirement, they have to be in the same place and for many of them it is difficult under the immigration rules to be in the same place. My understanding, from cases in my constituency, was that the matter would be considered flexibly and a two-year provable relationship would suffice. I will certainly raise the issue with Lord Rooker.

I also suggest that the hon. Gentleman's constituent contact the Stonewall immigration department, which runs an excellent advice service for couples such as those he referred to. I would point out, however, that until this Government came to power, there were no immigration rights for same-sex or unmarried couples.

The hon. Gentleman also congratulated the Cowes Customs and Excise office on the excellent job that it did recently in busting a multi-million-pound cocaine smuggling operation, and asked me to promise not to close it. I cannot deliver that promise, but I will pass on his concerns to the Minister responsible and say how much he and his constituents value the office's work.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) usefully identified a number of subjects that have come up repeatedly in this debate. These debates are an excellent barometer of constituents' concerns. Ministers in all Departments should scan this debate for areas of concern. I shall certainly draw several matters to the relevant Ministers' attention.

The right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair about what happened last Thursday. I do not mind the fact that we have been here for five or six hours, but he must realise that insisting on a Division last Thursday could have meant that we had no debate at all tonight. The Government did the right thing in ensuring that we have had a full debate.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he enjoyed travelling to the south-west recently. I am sure that it was a pleasurable experience for us to have him. I hope that many hon. Members, present and not present tonight, will take the opportunity of the summer recess to visit Devon and Cornwall—which brings me to my final point.

Several hon. Members spoke about the long summer recess, without exception hoping that it would be the last one. They thought that it would be right for us to sit in September. I hope that they will support the package that we hope to propose to the House to ensure that that happens. On that note, I wish all the right hon. and hon. Members who stayed until 1.30 am for this debate a very happy recess, and happy holidays.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.