§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Vernon Coaker.]2.22 pm
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I want to raise two important issues. The first relates to sleep apnoea and road safety.
Last year I helped to organise a working group to examine the problems of sleep disorder and its impact on road accidents. I also tabled an early-day motion, which was signed by 126 Members of Parliament. The motion recognised that a significant proportion of all road accidents resulting in death or serious injury were caused by sleepiness, and that that led to misery. As well as noting the obvious human misery caused by fatal road accidents, however, we should note that a fatal accident costs about ?1 million, given the cost of emergency services and the cost of any subsequent inquiry.
I am raising this issue in an attempt to secure more Government recognition of sleep disorders and their impact on society, especially in relation to road accidents. It is currently estimated that sleep disorders affect approximately 770,000 people in the United Kingdom, but despite the number of sufferers there is no mention of sleep disorders in the national health service plan or other Government health guidelines—notwithstanding research showing that treatment is cost-effective, and a recent estimate by sleep experts that untreatable sleep disorders are costing the NHS ?432 million a year.
Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake, the road safety charity, issued a statement today sayingIt's a horrific thought that thousands of people setting off on long holiday drives could be unwittingly putting their families at risk because of a sleep disorder. Tragically, people are already dying on our roads because sleep disorders lead drivers to doze off at the wheel. These deaths are preventable and it is high time thatthere was someaction to educate drivers about sleep disorders and give doctors the resources they need to treat them.
The most common disorder is obstructive sleep apnoea, in which obstruction of the airway during sleep can lead to excessive daytime tiredness. Many sufferers remain undiagnosed because they assume that they are suffering from exhaustion rather than a specific, treatable condition. Dr. Melissa Hack of the Newport Sleep Centre saysSleep disorders have a huge impact on the quality of life of the sufferer. Greater attention must be paid to sleep related disorders which can be identified and treated".
This is an important issue, which has been ignored. I have tied it in with road safety because of recent research published in a report called "Dead Tired". It concluded that sleep caused 20 per cent. of accidents on our motorways. I urge the Government to take the problem seriously; I will certainly raise it again when we reassemble in the autumn.
I want to say a quick word about Iraq as well. I think that our Government are digging themselves deeper and deeper into the mire. The Untied States has finally been forced to admit what the rest of us already knew: that 476 the war is ongoing, and is costing a fortune. Last night we witnessed an extraordinary scene—American troops in Iraq appearing on television to call for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. As for the authority of the British Government, we seem to be shifting from farce to tragedy. As the weapons of mass destruction issue unravels, it looks increasingly likely that the case against Iraq was exaggerated by both the United States and our own Government.
On the matter of uranium from Niger, for example, President Bush and the Prime Minister are not even singing from the same hymn sheet. Let me remind Members of events. At the end of February 2002, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson went to Niger, at the behest of his Government, to investigate claims that uranium was being sold to Iraq. According to his own recently published account, he found that documents purporting to disclose that were forgeries, and the US embassy staff on the ground certainly agreed with him. According to his account, he told the American authorities that several times, but inexplicably his reports seem to have been ignored.
Six months later, in September last year, our Prime Minister presented his first dossier, which contained the claim that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. This week the Foreign Secretary informed the House that it was not until mid-February this year, a full 12 months later, that British Ministers were apprised of Mr. Wilson's findings. The Foreign Secretary has also assured us in writing—placing a letter in the House of Commons Library—thatalthough the CIA told the British government about their reservations concerning this element of the September dossier, UK officials were confident that the dossier's statement was based on reliable intelligence which the government had not shared with the USA.I have quoted from the Foreign Secretary's letter, because I think it makes the case for me.
Meanwhile, inconveniently—the timing was unfortunate to say the least—the Prime Minister was appearing before the Liaison Committee to assure its members that the dossiers were based on well-founded intelligence. Across the water, the White House was informing the American public that the reference in President Bush's state of the Union speech on 28 January this year had been wrong—a mistake that the CIA has subsequently "coughed up" to. Contrary to that, in a new development this weekend, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld insisted on American television that the President had done nothing wrong: he had simply stated what the British Government had told him. The British Government had told him that Saddam Hussein was attempting to procure uranium from Niger, and therefore his statement was technically correct.
It seems to me that many lives—those of thousands of Iraqi families, as well as the families of dead and injured British and American soldiers—have been shattered on the basis of technicalities such as this. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, President Bush has executed a further about-face. In direct contradiction to what his aides have been saying, he now stands by the "damn good" intelligence that he received.
Finally—and let us hope that it is final—the British Government's assertion that the dossier's claims about Niger uranium were based on other reliable intelligence 477 has now been thrown into question. According to Reuters, a western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency insists that the intelligence on which the UK says it relied came from the same group of faked documents that Joseph Wilson discredited as long ago as February 2002.
The Government owe Parliament and the British public an urgent answer to the following questions. First, why were the Government not informed about the forged documents until a year after Joseph Wilson's report? After all, we are the Americans' closest allies. Secondly, when did the British intelligence services get wind of those forgeries? Thirdly, what other evidence exists to back up the claim that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Niger, and is the source in question free from the taint of forgery? Fourthly, is it true, as The Independent claims today, that the Government are refusing to hand over this evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency?
By the Foreign Affairs Committee's own admission, it had insufficient access to sources and personnel in order to judge whether the intelligence was faulty or misinterpreted. If the Government accept the right of Parliament to question the evidence of weapons of mass destruction, as the Foreign Secretary did in his statement yesterday, why will the Prime Minister not take the next step and set up an independent judicial inquiry? These are very important matters, which we should look at again soon and urgently.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
May I remind all Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches?
§ Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)
I want to raise an issue that is of importance to my constituents and I and to the House as a whole. In essence, I want to talk about the Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to China and the opportunity that it presents, within the context of the war against terrorism, to give voice to the non-violent aspirations of the long-suffering people of Tibet. I hope that he will take the opportunity in the days ahead to carry with him the hopes of the Tibetans and of their countless friends throughout the world, especially in this House. He will know of the important work done by the all-party group on Tibet under the distinguished chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). He will also be familiar with early-day motion 834, which raises current causes for deep concern, especially the recent execution of Lobsang Dhondup and the two-year suspended death sentence imposed on the respected Buddhist leader, Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche. In particular, I ask that those on the Government Front Bench convey to the Prime Minister our feeling that he should impress on the Chinese Government the need to make meaningful progress in the current talks between the Tibetans and the Chinese, and to press the Chinese Government to enter into proper negotiations with the Tibetan Government in exile, without stipulating impossible preconditions.
478 The Prime Minister is going on a world tour—to the USA, Japan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong—and I wish him well; however, I want to concentrate on China. We as a country have great experience in dealing with China over the years, particularly during the years of negotiation on Hong Kong. There is new leadership in China and the United Kingdom wants to be China's European best friend. Business men are going with the Prime Minister, which is good, but we have to deal with China with our eyes wide open.
Tibet has been occupied for 53 years now. The Government are very knowledgeable on United Nations resolutions, a number of which cover Tibet. They deal with the human rights abuses; the transfer of the population on a massive scale; the destruction of whole communities, monasteries and cultural buildings; the degradation of the environment; and the assault on the freedoms of the nomadic way life. International pressure can, and has, made a difference.
The all-party group on Tibet was fortunate to be visited recently by Ngawang Sangdrol, a 23-year old young woman from Tibet whose story illustrates what peaceful protest means there. For demonstrating with a small group of young nuns when she was 13, and for calling for Tibetan independence, she was imprisoned for two years. Because she would not recant and sang songs honouring the Dalai Lama, she was subjected to brutal punishments and stripped of her civil rights. She has been released after 11 years, only though the efforts of Amnesty International and many others, including our colleagues here, particularly the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing). Still deprived of her civil rights, Ngawang Sangdrol was allowed to leave Tibet for medical treatment on the condition that she sign an undertaking not to speak of her treatment. That success is due in large part to the fact that people all over the world hung on to her name. Now, we can see her face to face.
Ngawang Sangdrol is one of hundreds of political detainees—of young people born under the Chinese occupation of Tibet who have steadfastly followed the Dalai Lama's non-violent approach. It would surely be far easier for many of them to follow the more familiar path of the dispossessed and aggrieved of today's world—to meet violence with violence—but they do not. The difference for the Tibetans is the Dalai Lama: a man of enormous authority to his people, and of absolute peace to the world. He is a firm believer in non-violence, and states:We are freedom fighters unique in our peaceful approach to liberation …Should this experiment prove successful, it could have a revolutionary effect on future struggles for freedom".
Let me set that in a context that I hope the House can appreciate and will understand. Our country is acutely aware of the threat of terrorism, both internally and internationally. I have supported the Government in their actions in recent months, and I believe that we are right to protect our own interests against organised terrorism. But I also recognize—I know that the Government do, too—that, currently, much in the world situation is feeding the recruitment of terrorists. This, uniquely, is not the situation with the people of Tibet. Where others speak the language of war and practise it, the Dalai Lama speaks only the language of peace and seeks a non-violent resolution of his people's 479 desperate plight. Is that not what we ask all world leaders to do, and should we not seek to help those few—those very few—who actually do it?
UK Governments past and present have shown the value of innovative non-violent approaches in Northern Ireland. The UK speaks with first-hand experience of terrorism and the path to resolution—so, in our own sphere, we believe that there is another way. It surely follows that we should be prepared to demonstrate this to the world at large, and to say that those who follow peaceful advocacy of their cause can, and should, gain an advantage. Their grievances should be heard, and resolutions should be found to their legitimate concerns; otherwise, we leave them no alternative but violence and terrorism.
A very important moment came in September 2002, with re-establishment of direct contact between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government. That was a very brave decision on the part of the Dalai Lama. No political leader since Gandhi has so steadfastly followed the path of non-violence, and none has had their determination to remain non-violent put to such a tough test as the Tibetans, on whom the Chinese have inflicted that test. The Dalai Lama has been abused and vilified by the Chinese authorities as if he were an armed terrorist. Meanwhile, foreign Governments, various world bodies and countless individuals have heaped much praise on the Dalai Lama for his peaceful approach. But however much praise has been given to the Dalai Lama and to the Tibetan people, in practical terms it has been almost meaningless. Tibetans could easily point to numerous examples of violence achieving the desired results.
The Dalai Lama's representatives have paid two visits to Beijing in the past 12 months, but there is no sign yet that the Chinese Government are genuinely willing to work toward real negotiations. Those are still discussions about discussions, and at the moment they appear to be going nowhere. Some believe that the Chinese Government's motive is to string out these talks to curb the Dalai Lama from speaking in public at all. The Chinese have already secured a tight self-restriction on campaigning by the Tibetan world diaspora and Tibet's friends—this in order to demonstrate the Tibetan commitment to dialogue. It is surely in both the international community's and China's interests to show that a non-violent approach warrants a civilised response and practical outcomes.
During his forthcoming visit to China, the Prime Minister can play a significant role in convincing the Chinese that the current talks have to be for real, that they are in their interests and will be to their credit. He speaks with the authority of one who has been personally involved in handling attempts to resolve a terrorist approach to nationalist aspirations. Our Government's policy is to recognise China's special relationship with Tibet on the basis that Tibet enjoys genuine autonomy. This, too, is the policy of the Dalai Lama. The Prime Minster has to underline the fact that the Dalai Lama has made a major concession by not pressing for the independence demanded by many of his people.
As the deputy Leader of the House will know, Chinese diplomacy on such issues is aggressive, and to have any impact at all a similarly robust approach is needed. Indeed, such an approach is also respected, as 480 we know from the example of Hong Kong. For both historical and current reasons, we owe a moral obligation to the Tibetan people and to the Dalai Lama. In the current world context, it is in our interest to give them our support, and to show the Chinese that that is also in their interests.
The opening of dialogue can reflect only creditably on China, but it has to be a genuine dialogue. It must be dialogue that is not made impossible by Chinese pre-conditions, such as demanding that the Dalai Lama should subscribe to statements, knowing that he is in no position to do so.
In summary, I ask the Government to encourage the Prime Minister to urge the Chinese leadership seriously to discuss the issue of Tibet by entering into a proper dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives. This needs to be done against the background of mutual understanding and trust. The Dalai Lama is offering that to the Chinese and they should respond in like manner.
Clearly the Chinese Government are not yet serious, so we should implore the Prime Minister to press China's leaders to understand the opportunity that is presented by the Tibetan leader. This would be in the best interests not only of the Tibetans and the Chinese, but of humanity as a whole. Against the background of the international war against terrorism, there should be a global message that non-violent protest against gross violations of basic human rights deserves our support and should be helped to succeed.
§ Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)
I wish to raise three issues in the 10 minutes available to me, the first of which is transport. At Transport questions this week, I raised with Ministers the reduction of services at Hartford station in my constituency. I now want to elaborate on the problems that we are experiencing there.
In 1988, British Rail issued a press notice that described Hartford station. It stated:Located at the heart of Mid-Cheshire … ideally situated to provide a fast rail service to various parts of the country and is quickly becoming the recognised centre of convenient rail travel in the Vale Royal area. Since electrification of the West Coast Main Line in 1966, Hartford's role has steadily increased and from May 16th 1988 the service has been vastly improved, with over 20 InterCity trains calling at the station in addition to a further 10 extra holiday trains on Saturdays during the summer. The regular hourly service of local trains throughout the day links Hartford with all stations on the Crewe-Liverpool line.The notice described how the station served not only Hartford, but Northwich, Winsford, Middlewich, Knutsford and a wider area. It had 100 free car parking spaces, which recently had been extended. The press release explained a number of other services that went through Hartford. In 1988, Hartford was becoming a busy station.
Privatisation stopped all that. In 2001, Virgin Rail ended the west coast main line service that stopped at Hartford. The Virgin Cross Country services that used Hartford were stopped in 2002. Now, the Strategic Rail Authority has confirmed that the Liverpool to Birmingham service will no longer stop at Hartford, although it may well stop at peak periods.
What is most striking about this are the reasons given for the diminution of services at Hartford. A letter from the Strategic Rail Authority stated: 481It may help if I set out the overall context in which the timetable changes are being made. Since last September the timetable has not worked satisfactorily. This is borne out by our performance statistics, which show that the performance of many operators is still below par. For instance, in the last quarter of last year, punctuality on Virgin Cross County fell by 47.6 per cent. It was clear that, in the interests of passengers, a new approach was needed.The letter then mitigates the position, saying:The section of the West Coast Main Line between Crewe and Weaver Junction is double-track only, which creates a 'pinch point' with a lot of pressure on available capacity. For this reason a number of Hartford stops will be removed".I find it hard to bring together what British Rail was able to do in 1988 with what the SRA is telling us now. I want more trains to stop at Hartford station to encourage people to leave their cars at home and use public transport.
Virgin Rail says that it has finished the Hartford stops, but that passengers can get a free train from Hartford to Crewe and then the intercity line from Crewe to London. However, the first train to leave Hartford will not get business men or women to Crewe in time to catch a train to be in London for 9 o'clock. They have a choice; they can either drive their cars to Manchester airport and fly or get on the M6 and drive. I am looking to Ministers and the Department for Transport to see what they can do to improve the services that use this excellent station in my constituency, and I look forward to that happening.
On a related issue, Cheshire county council has decided, in its wisdom, to cut £250,000 from school bus services. Three services serve my constituency, all of which are threatened. The Weaver to Helsby service takes a large number of pupils on a tortuous journey through my constituency to an excellent school. If that service is removed, the parents of those children will have a choice: they can take the children in the car or they can put them in a taxi, as it is far too far to walk. That is an ill-thought-out proposal.
The proposal to remove the services to Aston primary school in the north of my constituency is equally poor. The school is rural and the narrow roads that service it are not fit for children to walk along. Cheshire county council says that it wants children to get in their parents' cars to go to school, or to make a dangerous journey. That is not acceptable.
The third transport issue that I want to raise relates to the Competition Act 1998. Two bus companies serve the northern part of my constituency, Arriva and First North Western. On one route, from Helsby to Chester, one could until recently interchange tickets on that route. The inter-availability of tickets has been removed because of the transport companies' fear that they will fall foul of the Competition Act, because both companies charge the same price for the journey. That scheme has been in existence for about 16 years, from when the route was split between the two.
The scheme does not threaten competition but it serves my community well and has done so for many years. Because of the threat that the companies may be acting in contravention of the Competition Act, they have had to remove the inter-availability of tickets. I 482 want common sense on the issue, rather than the red tape that is bringing about another diminution of transport services in my constituency.
The second issue concerns Cloughwood, a residential special school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I have been associated with the school for about 15 years. When I worked in special education, I visited the school, and I have kept a close association with it since becoming a Member of Parliament. It is the premier residential EBD school in the country. Its last Ofsted report said that it was an excellent school; Ofsted could find nothing to criticise in the school.
For boys aged from about eight to 11 who have failed everywhere else in the education system, the school provides a real opportunity to succeed. They do well in GCSE examinations; the school's league table position is there for all to see. The school is represented nationally in trampolining competitions, and the art work in the school is fantastic; the school has a charter mark for art. It is a first-class school, but it is under threat because Cheshire county council, short-sightedly, wants to save some money.
Since September last year, the council has reduced the number of admissions to the school and now says that there are surplus places. It wants to change the residential nature of the school into a mixed residential and day-care school. Anybody who has worked in special education will know that that mix does not work. The only way that one can succeed with boys presenting such problems at 10 or 11 is to have them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has to be done that way and I am appalled that Cheshire county council has made the decision without properly consulting. I want to give notice that I shall oppose the move by the county council as vigorously as I can.
The third local issue concerns Halton hospital in my constituency. On 1 July this year, the clinical director at North Cheshire Hospitals Trust unilaterally, without consultation and without following due process, decided to close two intensive care beds in the hospital. He did so on the pretext that he did not have enough anaesthetic cover for the two hospital sites. Nothing has changed, as far as I can see, in the last two months.
Now, anybody in Halton hospital who needs intensive care must be moved through Widnes to Whiston, or through the southern part of Runcorn to Warrington general hospital. That is a diminution of service at Halton general hospital to which I am totally and utterly opposed. Efforts to get the clinical director to change his mind have so far not succeeded. However, I shall be looking to the North Cheshire Hospitals Trust and the Cheshire and Merseyside strategic health authority to come forward with a plan that will reinstate those intensive care beds to a hospital that serves my constituency well.
I am grateful for the House's attention to these matters.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
As the House knows, two issues are so important to my constituency that I have promised my constituents that I will raise them al every practical opportunity on the Floor of the House. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that they are 483 the future of the royal hospital Haslar, and the risk that 400 young men may be accommodated on the Daedalus site in the inner Solent.
The background to the Haslar hospital problem is that the Government decided in 1997–98 to investigate the clear deficiencies, particularly in respect of senior consultants, in the Defence Medical Services. Those deficiencies were well known for some time, and a committee comprising no medically trained staff decided that the way ahead was to build a new centre of medical excellence—along the lines, they hoped, of Guy's hospital in London or the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford—and to close the only remaining military hospital in the United Kingdom, the royal hospital Haslar in my constituency.
When they pressed ahead with the plan, they found that, apart from Birmingham, there were no takers for the new centre of medical excellence. I have to say that it is with some considerable reluctance that medical staff are now being moved to Birmingham as the plan proceeds. I have met all the senior people involved and I know that they are capable. They are not medical but military people; if they had been tasked to take Basra, no doubt they would have taken it. However, they were tasked to close Haslar hospital and to move defence medicine to Birmingham: they are getting on with it efficiently.
The question for the future is what will happen to defence medicine and to the royal hospital Haslar? Defence medicine is not thriving at the moment in the key faculties of general medicine, general surgery and orthopaedic surgery and there are dramatic shortages of anaesthetists. There are only 23 anaesthetists out of an establishment of 120, and only 18 general surgeons out of an establishment of 44. Clearly, things are not going well in the field of defence medicine.
Of course we must all wish the Ministry of Defence well and hope that it is successful in its innovative plans to increase pay and retention payments in an attempt to ensure that doctors who join the Army, Navy and Air Force actually remain there. The problem is not recruitment—people are willing to enter the armed forces and be paid for their training—but retention. It often seems more attractive for doctors to move outside the services once they have received the qualifications that they want. We wish the Ministry of Defence well in the task of retaining doctors, nurses and other staff. I for one am convinced that, if Haslar hospital were retained a s the centre of esprit de corps of the Defence Medical Services, it would have a significant effect on retaining medical staff.
I move on to the civilian side, because the Haslar hospital has served the civilian population, as well as the Army, Navy and Air Force, for many years. It is an integral and necessary part of the medical establishment in the area. I received an assurance from the then Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) in a letter of 28 January 2003. She said:As you may know the Health Authority undertook a local consultation from January to April 2000. Following this consultation a commitment was made to the people of Gosport to develop a substantial facility as RH Haslar (subject to Ministry of Defence agreement on the use of the site), with day case surgery, diagnostic services, outpatient clinics and the Haslar Accident 484 Treatment Centre. The local NHS remains committed to this vision, and we are working closely with the Ministry of Defence to take it forward.The problem is the proviso,subject to Ministry of Defence agreement on the use of the site".Currently, there has been no arrangement between the Ministry of Defence and the NHS on the use of the site, and without that agreement the Ministry of Defence remains locked into owning a hospital that it does not want to run, and the NHS has superb facilities available to it, but cannot come to a final conclusion.
As we sit here today, a private finance initiative bid is being considered for the other local hospital, the Queen Alexandra hospital, Corsham. Once the hospital trust sorts that out, it will be able look into the longer-term position. I maintain that, with the superb diagnostic imaging treatments available at Haslar, the MRI scanners and the ultrasound facilities, which are built into the structure of the building and are incapable of being moved elsewhere—quite apart from the 280 beds and other facilities—the NHS will not be able to cope without Haslar's facilities. I maintain that the Minister should follow through her commitment of 29 January 2003 and confirm that arrangements are being put in hand to transfer Haslar hospital from the ownership of the Ministry of Defence to the NHS, and then the NHS hospital trust could plan ahead. That having been done, I am confident that the Ministry of Defence, recognising that the Haslar facilities remained and would not be closed as currently projected in 2007, could examine its own plans further and continue to use the royal hospital, Haslar as a centre for medical excellence and esprit de corps in the Defence Medical Services. That is my plea today.
The second issue is the Daedalus site in Lee-on-the-Solent. It came as a bombshell in February this year when the Home Office announced that it was considering, initially, 550 families, and subsequently 400 young men, to be located at the Daedalus site, a former naval air station at Lee-on-the-Solent. The area of west Lee-on-the-Solent has been in shock ever since. A local estate agent told me that he has not sold a single house there since the announcement was made. Yet when I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration what consultations she had undertaken with local estate agents before stating that the identification of the site of the accommodation centre would not have an effect on house prices or sales—her assurance was that she had no reason to believe that it would have such an effect—the answer was, of course, none.
The truth is that it has affected local house prices and the transferability of houses. I feel particularly sorry for a constituent who e-mailed me yesterday saying that he was under threat of redundancy and might need to sell his house, but could not afford to do so at a reduced price. Clearly, other areas where accommodation centres are under consideration—namely, Bicester and Newton—will affect decisions about the Daedalus site. The decision on Bicester, which was expected two or three weeks ago, has been delayed until the autumn. I believe that the delay may be due to the inspector's reservations about placing an accommodation centre in a quiet rural location next to a small village. It seems that the decision on Daedalus will await the Bicester decision. I regard waiting as good news because we 485 know that the Government are considering the screening of applicants for political asylum outside the UK as urged by the Conservative party. If the Government are capable of pursuing that proposal, it will put off completely the need to have accommodation centres.
I end by saying that siting an accommodation centre in Lee-on-the-Solent and placing 400 young men in a quiet seaside retirement area is viewed locally with horror. Local residents are worried about security because there are many military establishments in the area. They are concerned about pressure on resources. They know that young men from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the former Republic of Yugoslavia would not integrate locally. They are vehemently opposed to the plan. I hope that the Home Office will take my plea into account before taking a decision on Daedalus.
§ Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)
I am grateful once again to have the opportunity to participate in an end-of-Session Adjournment debate. These debates really do provide Members with an opportunity to comment on a wide range of issues right across the political spectrum.
The first issue that I wish to comment on today is the war in Iraq and its aftermath. I was not fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on the occasions when this matter was debated in the House, especially before the conflict, and I would therefore like to take this opportunity to put my position on the public record.
I abhor the use of violence in all its forms. It runs contrary to my moral, intellectual and religious beliefs, and I find the appalling carnage, death and destruction that occur during a war almost too horrific to contemplate. Yet, despite having those deeply held views, I am also pragmatic enough to know that, in the dangerous world in which we live, there are occasions on which the use of military force is both necessary and justified. I had to be totally convinced that the use of military force was essential and that it complied with the requirements of international law before I supported military action against Iraq earlier this year. Throughout the pre-war period I was greatly encouraged by the Government's attempts to secure the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, under the auspices of the UN Security Council. The Government's role in persuading the US to follow the UN route, and in securing UN resolution 1441, was commendable.
The policy of backing up resolution 1441 with a credible threat of military action if Iraq did not fully comply with its terms offered the best chance for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq then. However, as we are all aware, the French declaration of an intention to veto any resolution that specifically allowed the use of military action effectively scuppered that course of action. In my view, that collapse of the diplomatic process made war inevitable. The only question that remained to be answered was whether Britain should commit its armed forces to the conflict.
I was convinced that Iraq did possess chemical and biological weapons and had to be disarmed. I was also convinced that weapons inspectors would not be able to 486 achieve anything meaningful without the full and active co-operation of the Iraqi regime. I was further convinced that the Iraqi regime had no intention of giving that co-operation. Additionally, I believed that Saddam Hussein would not hesitate to use his weapons, or to supply them to terrorist organisations for use, against his perceived enemies. He and his regime had a proven track record of crimes against humanity. We have all now seen the mass graves. Of course, I could have been wrong then, but I was not prepared to take that chance and therefore I supported the Government's decision to commit our forces to the conflict in Iraq.
The fact that as yet no weapons of mass destruction have been found does not lead me to conclude that the intelligence provided to the British and American Governments was seriously flawed. If we consider the situation in Northern Ireland and the issue of disarming the paramilitaries, we see that small organisations have been able to conceal arms and explosives in a relatively small area, and the combined efforts of the military, the intelligence agencies and the police force have been unable to detect them for more than 30 years. So it is hardly surprising that in a country the size of Iraq the former Iraqi regime has been able to hide its weapons. In my view, that merely demonstrates the futility of endlessly continuing with the UN weapons inspections. Throughout the Iraq crisis, the Prime Minister has displayed great fortitude, leadership and statesmanship and I commend him for that. The same cannot be said for the Leader of the Opposition.
I shall now touch briefly on a couple of other issues. Although they are completely unrelated, they do have a common thread in that there are heated arguments in political circles about whether or not they should be the subject of referendums.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
The hon. Lady has been uncharacteristically curt and ungracious about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Many hon. Members will share her admiration for the Prime Minister's statesmanship, but will also be prepared to put on record their admiration for the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, from the start of the war to its finish, was wholehearted in his support for the Government and the British national interest.
§ Geraldine Smith
The Leader of the Opposition did fully support the Government during the conflict in Iraq. He called for us to take action and was behind the action that was taken, but now he seems to have changed his mind. He is taking an opportunistic view of a serious matter that should be above party politics.
§ Geraldine Smith
No, I am sorry, but I am limited to 10 minutes. I have moved on to the forthcoming European constitution—which may prompt more interventions—and to the proposals for English regional government and, in particular, a referendum for the north-west. I shall make it clear at the outset that I am not in favour of a referendum for either proposal.
Taking the European constitution first, it appears to, me to be premature, if not slightly absurd, to call for a referendum on a matter that is still very much subject to 487 negotiation, the final outcome of which may have no significant constitutional impact on our citizens. Referendums should be held only when the electorate are in the best possible position to make a judgment. They should be held only when people know exactly what they are getting. I would therefore urge the Prime Minister to continue to resist the ill founded and opportunistic calls from the anti-European element, in the House and elsewhere, for an open-ended commitment to a referendum, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations on the European constitution.
On the question of regional government, it would perhaps be more appropriate to refer to it as local government reorganisation, because it appears to have far more to do with the latter than the former. In this instance, I am opposed to a referendum being held, because we have more important matters to address, such as health, education, crime and antisocial behaviour. I am also opposed to what is being proposed and fully intend to campaign actively for a no vote when a referendum is held in the north-west region.
To proceed with referendums on the basis of a favourable outcome on the minuscule return of a consultation process involving a tiny fraction of the electorate is both absurd and wrong. The decision looks even more bizarre when we remember that neither the few who were consulted, nor the even fewer who bothered to respond, had any detailed knowledge of the make-up of the forms of government that would be put to them in a referendum.
It is clear that while the subject may excite many politicians, the general public appear to be indifferent to the whole idea. Equally, the business community is far from convinced of the benefits of regional government and is concerned about the adverse impact that it could have. I see little in the proposals for regional government that would kindle a spark of enthusiasm in the public or alleviate the concerns of the business community.
Local democracy will be diminished rather than enhanced by the abolition of the county council structure and its replacement by a remote regional assembly. The cost of implementing the changes to local government structures will be enormous and the brunt of the cost—if not all of it—will be borne by local businesses and taxpayers. The Government will no doubt absolve themselves of any responsibility for the cost, on the grounds that it was local people who voted for the changes. While it may be argued that in the longer term the new structures will produce savings through economies of scale, such savings invariably fail to materialise in real life.
What the regions of this country require now is additional resources for regional development, not additional regional government. If political change is required to achieve that, those changes should be made here at Westminster where the power and resources lie. The parliamentary programme should be changed to allow regular specific regional debates and, indeed, regional Question Times. The Government should appoint Ministers with responsibility for the development of a designated region, who can be held to account by the Members of Parliament for that region. That is the direction that we should take towards establishing a stronger, more effective role for the regions.
488 I could have mentioned many other issues—the shortage of NHS dentists in my constituency, the need for still more police on the beat and community support officers, and the problems of rogue landlords in seaside towns—but I am aware that many Members wish to speak. I will say no more other than to wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, a very happy recess and to urge all Members to—
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
We heard a refreshing and honest speech from the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), and a characteristically distinguished speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who has consistently represented the interests of his constituents vis-à-vis the future of the defence hospital at Haslar. I recently visited the site with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and I very much hope that it can stay in medical use and that it will be used by the civil population and the military. It is tragic that an institution of such distinction and historic excellence should be put at risk. I trust that wiser counsels will prevail.
I also trust that wiser counsels will prevail in respect of the future of the cancer centre and the burns and plastics unit at Mount Vernon hospital in my constituency. For many years, since the advent in power of this Administration in 1997, I have had cause to come to the House to make speeches about the future of Mount Vernon hospital at Northwood and of Harefield hospital in my constituency. Both are regional specialist hospitals.
The Northwood cancer centre is not just a centre of clinical excellence, but the Gray Cancer Institute, the Lynda Jackson Macmillan centre for cancer care and the Michael Sobell hospice for palliative care for cancer patients are all on the site. It is an integrated facility that is second to none in our part of the country. Furthermore, it takes patients not merely from north-west London but from Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and beyond, as does Harefield hospital. Harefield is a cardio-thoracic centre that has done more heart transplants than any hospital in the world. Yet Her Majesty's Government are prepared to see both institutions so greatly reduced that they will have no significant standing in the future and their services will be transferred elsewhere regardless of the strong desire of patients, staff and local people that they should stay in their present locations, which are ideal.
I will talk about Mount Vernon and, under the parliamentary procedure of the old days, I would have had cause to do so at this very moment. The official consultation on its future is paradoxically being carried out by the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire strategic health authority and it will conclude on 1 September before the House returns after the recess. It is urgent that the arguments to keep the cancer centre where it is be advanced once again.
There has been huge investment over the years, and not just from the national health service. Many generous subscribers and charities have also invested there. I refer to the Gray Cancer Institute, which is funded almost 489 entirely from private donations, as is the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust, RAFT, which does marvellous pioneering work in the disciplines of burns and plastic surgery. Their work is recognised the world over.
It is extraordinary that institutions of such excellence should be run down in favour of mega-hospitals that cost hundreds of millions of pounds and that are based in locations that are less than ideal. They are not ideal for my constituents or those who live in the catchment area currently served by Mount Vernon and by Harefield. Harefield is in a quiet rural village in green belt, but its services are to be transferred to Paddington. If one goes out of the hospital gates at Paddington for one's recuperation, there is a strong likelihood that one will be mugged. That is not the best way to recover.
Let us consider the alternatives to the Mount Vernon cancer centre. One is in Hatfield on a greenfield site that has not even been identified. The other is at Hemel Hempstead, and I see the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) in his place. From my constituents' point of view, it is very remote and hard to reach.
When we had a meeting in the House about the proper place for the cancer centre, the unanimous verdict of those Members present was, with, I think, one exception, that it should be where it is now at Mount Vernon. That was the view of the eminent professors from the Gray laboratory, the clinicians who work at Mount Vernon and tens of thousands of my constituents and others who have signed petitions in favour of Mount Vernon. However, because there is the extraordinary outlook that Whitehall and the NHS know best and that the planners should carry more clout than those who use or work in the service, we are facing a move away, with disastrous consequences for my constituency and an adverse effect on those who have enjoyed the quality of service at Mount Vernon and Harefield. I have never received a complaint about the quality of cancer care at Mount Vernon, so I do not comprehend why the service it provides that should be put at risk.
We carried out an independent study about the relative costs of Harefield and Paddington. The net cost of the transfer of the cardio-thoracic services from Harefield to Paddington was about £135 million as against a cost of £20 million for the cost of modernisation of the existing facilities. The position at Mount Vernon is even more complicated because of the scanners and radiological facilities there.
At long last, the North West London strategic health authority has come into the equation and it has persuaded the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire strategic health authority that the views of north-west Londoners should at least be taken into account. A parallel consultation is going on about the North West London strategic health authority's proposals. However, its proposals are predicated on the recommendations already made by Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Therefore, all that North West London will say is that some residual cancer services should be retained at Mount Vernon. It has in mind an ambulatory service whereby outpatients can have radiotherapy and chemotherapy at Mount Vernon. It has been argued 490 that, because no significant surgical facilities are left on the Mount Vernon site, thanks to the previous depredations of the NHS planners who have moved services to Hillingdon hospital and elsewhere, it is unsafe to maintain cancer treatment in depth at Mount Vernon. In view of the total infrastructure of cancer support and research at Mount Vernon, my argument is that it is infinitely cheaper to bring in additional surgeons as required.
§ Mr. Bercow
My hon. Friend is making an extremely revealing speech. Does he think that such perverse thinking on the part of the central planners might explain why the massive increase in expenditure on the NHS has not been matched by a commensurate increase in clinical activity?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but I see rays of hope. A new facility called the Anzac centre at Harefield has been opened. At last, more NHS investment is going in. At Mount Vernon, scanners are being modernised and extra facilities provided. An interim development is in process and, at long last, this is at the very least giving the NHS the option of going for a more cost-effective solution by building up the existing facilities. That is what my constituents and the patients who are treated at Mount Vernon would wish. It is important for plastic surgery and cancer treatment to be available on the same site so that we may have the totality of cancer care that Mount Vernon hospital provides. That is the desire of my constituents and in the weeks before the consultations conclude, I hope that such arguments will carry the day—they deserve to.
§ John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)
I am delighted to be able to participate in the debate. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), wish to put several points on the record.
I shall go straight to the Iraq war. Many of my constituents cannot understand why I have not spoken in any of the debates on the subject, so I now take my chance to do so. When I voted against the Government last March, I did so with a heavy heart. I am not one of the usual suspects, as they are called, but I have always been a party loyalist. I believe in collective responsibility, so I take some of the blame or credit for what has happened, depending on one's point of view.
The amendment that was moved during the debate in March echoed my own reservations about the war. It did not say that Saddam Hussein was not an evil tyrant or that he should not be overthrown. In my opinion, it was not the right time to go to war. The inspectors had found little evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and although I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime had the capability to make and deploy such weapons, I thought that the process was at too early a stage to start a war.
I also thought that the war was being hurried because of external factors. I believe that the fact that the US presidential elections are to be held next year had a great deal to do with the timing. The proof of the Government's position still needs to be shown, but I am 491 willing to wait, because finding the weapons could take some time. After all, our servicemen have been in Northern Ireland for many years and we have hardly found a weapon. Why should we think that it would be easier in a country the size of Iraq?
I supported the Government in the second vote on the Iraq debate because the motion contained a specific reference to United Nations involvement, about which I feel strongly. I was in Iraq between 10 and 12 June this year as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and our people on the ground were disappointed by the UN. Distribution of water by the UN in the Basra area has been poor and irregular, and the armed forces believe that aid would be distributed regularly if they were in charge of it. That has not happened under the UN and, as a result, local people blame the armed forces for poor water and food supplies although it is the fault of the UN. I take my hat off to the armed forces because they are doing an excellent job in conditions that hon. Members would not believe.
We should now draw a line in the sand and look to the future. It does the people of Iraq no good when all we hear is politicians arguing over history and how it will be written. What those people want is their country back and to be fed and happy. They want a future to look forward to.
My next point is important to my constituents in Glasgow, Anniesland. There are 13,500 pensioner households in my constituency and about 18,000 over-60s—it has one of the highest concentrations of elderly people in Europe. I am always keen to ensure that the Government implement measures to increase financial assistance and support for our pensioners.
I recently met pensioners in my constituency specifically to discuss the new pension credit, which will be introduced in October. The credit is an excellent idea—anything that puts more money in pensioners' pockets is more than welcome. The overwhelming message that I am receiving is that pensioners welcome the credit but that there are worries about its implementation. Some letters that pensioners have received are complicated and should be simplified. We have yet to find out how the help systems will alleviate such problems, and I want an assurance from the Government that we will not have the same debacle that occurred with the new tax credits and that the system will be ironed out before October.
I wish to mention shipbuilding, which I have spoken about many times in the Chamber and Westminster Hall. Any Glasgow Member with a constituency that borders the Clyde knows that BAE Systems is important to the area because it employs more than 2,000 people. However, I was dismayed to read in this week's newspapers about an argument that is creeping up about how much the new carriers will cost. The situation is another example of BAE Systems misusing its power on Ministry of Defence matters. I hope that the Government will sort out the situation. It is a bit worrying that the price of an aircraft carrier can practically double overnight. I hope that the Government will ensure that the company adheres to the agreements that it made when it signed the contracts.
I chair the all-party group on telecommunications. I sighed with relief on Monday when we finished our consideration of the Lords amendments to the 492 Communications Bill, which has now received Royal Assent. Over the past 18 months, we have addressed such issues as competition in the industry, regulation, the development and availability of new technology, conditions in the industry and consumer protection. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.
I want to raise a couple of issues that were neglected during our consideration of the Communications Bill. When an industry such as the communications industry is buoyant, the problem is that highly trained people are headhunted by more profitable companies that place little value on training. The EU high level taskforce on skills and mobility reported that 80 per cent. of today's skills will become obsolete in 10 years. Employees who were once highly skilled do not undergo sufficient training in the industry at present. It was unfortunate that during our consideration of the Bill, we could not reach the same agreement on training for communication workers as we could for broadcast workers, who were covered by the Bill. I hope that the White Paper on skills will lead to a consideration of that. The White Paper's foreword says:The skills of our people are a vital national asset. Skills help businesses achieve the productivity, innovation and profitability needed to compete. They help individuals raise their employability, and achieve their ambitions for themselves, their families and communities.I hope that those matters will be considered for communication workers.
I hope that Ofcom will do a better job than Oftel. I raised that with the then Leader of the House, when I asked:Is my right hon. Friend aware of the restrictive practices that are being applied by NTL and Telewest in relation to the new directory enquiries system? They are not permitting any of their 5 million customers to contact the other82 companies with "118" numbersthat are allowed to provide services and have paid a lot of money to obtain their numberswhen the ballot was held on the new numbering scheme. I went on to ask:Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a debate, or get in touch with the Department of Trade and Industry and in particular Oftel, which has refused to do anything on the grounds that 5 million people are too small a number to be bothered with? Perhaps one of the Opposition parties would consider requesting a debate next week.The Leader of the House replied:I was not aware of that, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling me about it. If what he says is accurate, it is extremely disturbing, and at the very least it is something that I should bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I will do that."—[Official Report, 5 June 2003; Vol. 405, c. 327.]I am still waiting for a reply.
I have received communications from both companies, but neither is prepared to allow free unlimited access to other "118" numbers, and will do so only if a financial agreement is arranged. That is deplorable. The 5 million customers, some of whom are in my constituency, receive an inferior service. At best, they could pay through the nose. I hope that Ofcom will look after consumers better than Oftel. I, for one, will not be sad to see it go.
§ Dr. Murrison
Does the hon. Gentleman share my regret that many telecommunication companies are not registered with the telecommunications ombudsman's excellent scheme? Will he join me in congratulating Virgin Mobile in Trowbridge on recently joining that scheme?
§ John Robertson
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on plugging his constituents.
When the "118" numbers for directory enquiries were auctioned off, no one was aware that 5 million people would not get access to them. The companies did not realise that they would have to make a deal with companies like Telewest or NTL for the numbers to be accessed. Five million is not a small number. After all, it is probably more people than voted Liberal.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I will not respond to that last remark by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson).
I am delighted to contribute to the debate. A number of us contribute regularly to these debates. Unlike so many other occasions in the Chamber, I am impressed by the sincerity of the contributions by hon. Members on both sides of the House; there is little artificiality.
I want to pick out three contributions by hon. Members who referred to the Iraq war. Although the contributions were different, they were all sincere. I hope hon. Members accept that my colleagues and I acknowledge the sincerity of others on the subject. I hope that that will be reciprocated. I do not think that people have been opportunistic—the issue is very important. It is, perhaps, the biggest that most of us will face in our political lifetimes. Hon. Members have genuinely felt it necessary to take a particular approach in difficult circumstances. I do not think that it is so much a case of deliberately deluding other people as a case of self-delusion. It is important for us to remember that.
I was struck by what the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) said. She reflected the important deep-seated concerns of many of our fellow citizens. That is summed up appositely by a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Mr. Rodric Braithwaite, who said in the Financial Times on 10 July:Fishmongers sell fish: warmongers sell wars.It is all too easy for those who have adopted an attitude to find good reasons to support it. That is not necessarily an exaggeration. Inevitably, if one has taken up a position, one tends to emphasise the things that support it rather than the things that oppose it. I recognised the sincerity of all three hon. Members who talked about Iraq.
The hon. Member for Halifax also referred to sleep-related driving accidents, which is another important issue. I have worked with her and the excellent pressure group, Brake. It is a sad fact that 20 per cent. of accidents on motorways are due to sleep-related tendencies. That is serious.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Tibet"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Tibet?"] I mean the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend), who spoke eloquently on behalf of the people of Tibet. He was right. It would be a great mistake for the 494 Prime Minister not to take the opportunity to represent the views of the forgotten people of Tibet when he meets the Chinese leadership. We all hope that the UK Government will continue to give robust and consistent support for the Dalai Lama, who has been put in a difficult position by recent developments.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) drew an interesting parallel between the issues that related to his constituency, all of which seemed to be about consultation. It is a feature of discussion on occasions like this that we are all concerned about the extent to which quite complicated proposals are put before us and before our constituents, but often in a way that either makes a fait accompli seem to be inevitable or, perhaps in some circumstances, makes it impossible for us to make a reasonable and intelligent contribution to an ongoing decision-making process.
That is true for the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I have followed him on four or five occasions in this sort of debate. On one occasion he was not in the Chamber when I had prepared my comments about what he would say, in anticipation. Although his efforts on behalf of the royal hospital have not been fully successful, the very fact that he has been persistent in seeking to draw the attention of all authorities at all levels to that centre of excellence has had an impact. However, there will now be a period of indecision. That is one of the problems of trying to hold back an unwelcome decision. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the special expertise that the defence medical team has had at the royal hospital, and moving it to Birmingham will inevitably be dislocating in the literal sense. I recognise that that is a real problem, but it is one that we all face.
Every time we challenge an apparent decision that is put before us, we shall inevitably increase the period of indecision. That is a price that we have to pay, but one that as local representatives we are only too willing to pay in most circumstances, if it results in a better decision in the longer term.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) talked about referenda. I hate the word referendums; it does not sound right. I thought that the hon. Lady was rather pushing her luck when she said that she was against a referendum on regional. devolution but she would argue vociferously against the proposal that would be put forward. That sounds like not having one's cake and not eating it. That is an extraordinary attitude. If there is not to be a referendum, the hon. Lady would not have the opportunity to advance her argument.
§ Geraldine Smith
I said that I was against a referendum in the north-west at this moment because there are more important issues to deal with such as health, education, crime and antisocial behaviour, and because there was no support for a referendum.
§ Mr. Tyler
The hon. Lady also said that she would argue strongly against it. If she did not have a referendum, she would not have that opportunity. She said that she was against all referenda, before she came to that section of her speech. I made a careful note. She said that she was against referenda. She also said that she was against a referendum on the European Union 495 constitution because it would be premature. That is perfectly reasonable, but there may come an opportunity and a moment when we have to have recourse to the British people, to give them an opportunity to express themselves. I believe that that is highly likely, and so do my colleagues. For the hon. Lady to say in advance that we do not know what is in it and therefore we should not have a referendum is just as absurd as saying, "We don't know what is in it, therefore we should have a referendum." Clearly we should wait to see what the question is, and then decide how best to put it to the British people.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson)—this is a subject that I have heard him speak about before—
§ Mr. Tyler
I come from the far Celtic west and I confess that I do not know where these places are.
The issue was, of course, consultation. I accept very much what the hon. Gentleman said. I know a little about Harefield because some of my constituents have benefited from the extraordinary professionalism and skills at Harefield hospital. I am not so well aware of Mount Vernon hospital. However, that would seem to be another example where consultation is at the key of what will happen. Of course, in such a case, it is a matter of consultation not only within the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the immediate area around it; so many people, including some of my constituents, have benefited from the high quality of service at these hospitals.
In a sense, this is a half-term report. Unfortunately, I do not have an opportunity at the end of the debate to speak on behalf of my colleagues. However, I respect what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland said about the debate on 18 March. It was a seminal moment for the House. There was not a free vote exactly, but it became a real debate. The hon. Gentleman listened carefully to the arguments and he took a view. 1 respect his sincerity. His view happened to be the same as mine. I equally respect the sincerity of those who took a different view, having listened to the debate.
On that occasion—I give credit to the Government in this respect—we clipped the wings of the royal prerogative. I doubt whether any future Prime Minister could possibly go to war—could send troops from this Country to any major hostilities—without coming to the House for a definitive debate and a definitive vote. That is an important step forward for all of us who believe that parliamentary democracy should be strengthened.
I should like to put in my two-penn'orth now, and deal with my own hobby horse. I would like to tell the House a cautionary tale. Last Wednesday, I tabled a question to the Prime Minister. It happened to be the clay on which, by firm convention, the Government should have given the House its response to proposals by the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. They had two months to respond, but did not do so. As I said in business questions, they gave their response yesterday, and it was published at midnight.
496 I therefore asked the Prime Ministerhow he intends to fulfil the undertaking to make the House of Lords more representative and democratic.In his response, the Prime Minister did not shuffle the matter sideways, as has often been the case in the past, but said:I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) on 7 July".—[Official Report, 9 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 853W.]I therefore looked at the question tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), who asked the Prime Ministerwhat plans he has to ensure that political opinion in Northern Ireland is proportionately represented in the House of Lords.The answer was:I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) on 15 January".—[Official Report, 7 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 617–18W.]I went back again and found that on that occasion the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)—I am sorry that he is not here—asked the Prime Ministerif it is his policy that the political balance of the House of Lords should be maintained prior to the implementation of legislation completing the second stage of reform.The Prime Minister replied:While the way forward on reform of the House of Lords is still under consideration, arrangements for identifying new members of the House remain unchanged. Membership of the House is kept under ongoing review."—[Official Report, 15 January 2003; Vol. 397, c. 632.]
I should like to make two points to the House. First, those are three very different questions. Even if the first answer was right, it is clearly not right for the other two questions. Secondly, and much more importantly, since that first question and answer, we have had a major debate in both Houses and a major Division in the Commons, substantially rejecting the option of a fully appointed upper Chamber, which was promoted by the Prime Minister in concert with the then Lord Chancellor. There were 78 votes against that option—the biggest majority of the evening. Moreover, the Joint Committee has undertaken a careful analysis of the position and reported to the House. The Prime Minister, however, ignored that, because he referred me to an answer that preceded all those events.
I am not someone who thinks that the Prime Minister treats the House of Commons as a doormat, although I know that some Members think so. However, that is heavy and substantial evidence of the Prime Minister's level of respect not just for what is said in the House, but for its votes. The House voted firmly and securely against a fully appointed House of Lords and, as the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said immediately after my contribution to business questions this afternoon, the House clearly does not want a House full of Tony's cronies—we do not want a fully appointed upper House. However, the paper published by the Lord Chancellor today talks about a House that in the medium term, and not just the short term, would get rid of the remaining 92 hereditary peers and appoint all its Members. With that proposal for a fully appointed House of Lords, he is telling the House of Commons, "I do not care what you think".
497 The attitude of some hon. Members to House of Lords reform, and especially its electoral aspects, has been conditioned by the concern that the Commons should remain pre-eminent. We have all heard that argument, but what does it say about the Government's respect for that view if, when the Commons votes against a fully appointed upper Chamber, they say, "To hell with you, we do not care what you think"? It is a ridiculous situation, and as soon as we return from the recess we must take the issue very seriously indeed.
§ Mr. Bercow
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Given that democratic legitimacy and parliamentary scrutiny alike dictate that the Government should now proceed to fulfil their manifesto commitment on an elected second Chamber, does he not share my concern that the present Leader of the House of Commons does not seem to be as willing to flex his muscles on this subject as, to his great and enduring credit, was the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)?
§ Mr. Tyler
All I can say is: let us wait and see. I hope we may find that the Leader of the House is prepared to stand up for what the House has said and clearly determined in its votes. Let us wait and see—there will be opportunities. As the right hon. Gentleman told the House earlier this afternoon, he voted for a 100 per cent. elected House, an 80 per cent. elected House and a 60 per cent. elected House.
I draw to the attention of colleagues again the fact that 332 hon. Members voted for one or other of those options. From the Lord Chancellor's paper, one would think that he had not read our debate. Pretending that there was no consensus for a substantial elected element is being economical with the truth. It is ridiculous. A majority of the House voted for a substantial elected element in a new second Chamber, and the Government should be prepared to accept that. If the Government say that this House is predominant, they should listen to what is said here.
This is an extremely important issue. The House should establish its credentials as the proper place to ensure that the manifesto commitments of an incoming Government are implemented in full. It is not just the Cabinet that is committed to making the House of Lords more democratic and representative; it is every single Member on the Government Benches who stood at the last general election on that manifesto and has that mandate.
§ Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green)
I raised the case of Cyprus in the Whitsun Adjournment debate on 22 May this year, and in many debates before that, and I return to the case of Cyprus today. I do so because on the surface it appears that many changes have taken place during the past few months; the reality, however, is different.
I remind the House that Turkey invaded Cyprus in July 1974—some 29 years ago—violating just about every conceivable international norm. Two hundred thousand Greek Cypriots were uprooted overnight, 498 5,000 were killed and some 1,600 are still missing. Countless UN resolutions, debates and efforts to find a solution have been thwarted by Turkey and by the leader of the occupied territory, Mr. Denktash. The Council of Europe regularly finds against Turkey, and the European Court of Human Rights has upheld all cases against Turkey, but no positive responses to its resolutions have been forthcoming from Turkey. It is now being suggested by Turkey that all that has changed. That can easily be refuted.
Yes, indeed, there were general elections in Cyprus in 2002, when AKEL, the socialist party, became the largest party. Yes, indeed, European Union accession negotiations have resulted in Cyprus signing the treaty of accession on 16 April this year. Yes, indeed, a new President, Tassos Papadopoulos, was voted into office on 16 February this year, and the new coalition Government of Mr. Papadopoulos of the Democratic party, DIKO, with AKEL, the Ecologists and the Social Democrats—EDEK, formerly called KISOS—have made an excellent start.
However, none of the above or any other changes, such as allowing Greek Cypriots to visit their own properties and villages in the occupied part of Cyprus, which Mr. Denktash announced some two months ago, has any bearing on an acceptable political solution. There is no solution at present. All we know is that Mr. Denktash said no on 11 March 2003 in The Hague to Mr. Kofi Annan's latest proposals.
To my mind, those UN proposals are now dead, but there are some interesting developments that throw some light on the matter. Turkey is fast losing its influence in the United States and other nation states. It is also deeply in debt. Turkey is totally focused on joining the European Union and it is in a bind. It has an abominable human rights record not only with regard to Cyprus, but in many other respects. Opening up the border between the legitimate part of Cyprus and the occupied part is an attempt to give the impression that democracy and human rights now prevail. Nothing is further from the truth. It has become crystal clear that Turkey should not be invited to start accession negotiations with the European Union until its attitude to human rights has improved considerably.
Like previous UK Governments, this Government apparently remain convinced that Turkey is a humane place and a parliamentary democracy. The other day, our Government mentioned that Turkey had recently given up the death penalty. That is rather curious, since, as a member of the Council of Europe, it should have done so many decades ago.
I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to convey to the Foreign Secretary the fact that I and many colleagues in the House would want to see real changes in Turkey, and for some considerable time., before even contemplating allowing it to commence accession negotiations.
§ Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)
I shall not necessarily follow the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) down the line that he took, but having been a councillor in the borough of Haringey many years ago, I am well aware of the importance in that area of matters affecting the Cypriot, Greek and 499 Turkish communities, so I understand why he raised those subjects. Instead, I wish to follow the line taken by colleagues on both sides of the House and raise a number of constituency issues. I should be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House would convey some of my questions directly to his colleagues.
Constituents have asked me to raise a number of issues before Parliament adjourns for the recess. Some were prompted by recent meetings at parish councils, but the concerns relate to parish, county, regional, national and international issues, so I shall do my best o get through them in the next 10 minutes.
First, on parish issues, I am sure that I speak on behalf of many of us in saying a word of thanks to those who fill places on parish councils and work so hard for us at a local level. We very much appreciate the work that they do. A number of issues that parish council members raised with me can be handled locally, but they wanted me to bring one or two to the House. First, they are still rather uncertain about the Government's view of them. They worry about the burden of regulation and the increasing amount of audit to which they are subject. Do the new proposals for ensuring that members must declare all their interests indicate some degree of suspicion about those on parish councils? Surely not.
I ask the Government to keep constantly under review the bureaucracy that affects parish councils. Will they let us know what representations have been made in the past 12 months about the burden of bureaucracy that parish councils now face, how many vacancies currently exist on parish councils throughout the country and what notification has been given of people leaving parish councils in the past 12 months?
The second issue that parishes raised with me, which has a wider impact, is their concern about young people. Most parishes have the same worries about some youngsters in their localities and the fact that not much guidance is available to them. In trying to do something for them, the same issue repeatedly arises—the lack of adult volunteers who can look after youngsters these days, including those in voluntary groups, uniformed societies and others. We know some of the reasons why that is the case. People are perhaps busier than they have ever been. Those who work away from home have longer travelling times and cannot give their time to the community as they did in the past.
There are other more difficult issues that the Government might consider. Rising insurance is a continuing problem. Everything connected with societies and activities for youngsters seems to attract increasingly large insurance bills these days. That is preventing some activities from taking place. Again, the burden of regulation and the hoops through which people have to jump in order to show that they are fit and proper persons to look after youngsters are significant. No one wants youngsters to be put at risk, but are we placing so many barriers in people's way that we are stopping them coming forward to fulfil roles in local communities that people have filled for many generations? Perhaps as a Parliament and as a nation we might put out a national call to encourage more people to be prepared to lead youngsters, using whatever skills they might have to provide a measure of stability and extra expertise to bring them on in our communities.
500 Another issue that was raised by the parishes, but applies on a wider county basis, concerns the statement that was made earlier this afternoon by the Secretary of State for Education. Bedfordshire, too, has suffered from the problems in education funding this year. Some 52 schools have applied to run a deficit budget; last year, only 11 schools in the county were in that situation. Four schools have told the county council that they are unable to set a budget. That is clearly very serious.
Although the Secretary of State's admission of error is welcome, I would be grateful if the Government would clear up one particular issue. On 2 May, the Department for Education and Skills sent a letter to my county council asking for information connected with the suggestion that county councils were retaining funds and withholding them from schools. On 12 May, Bedfordshire county council's local education authority replied to the letter, making it very clear that they had indeed passed on the money. The Government have provided no response beyond a generic letter suggesting that its reply was too detailed and that people cannot now expect a proper response. That is not good enough. If my county council is prepared to deal with the Government's allegation, the Government should be prepared to deal properly with the council's response. That would help to assuage the anger that people feel about the matter.
On health, my constituents are worried about the gap in health funding between different parts of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire strategic health authority. Three Bedfordshire PCTs are underfunded in terms of their distance from target. This year, on average, their distance below target is 4.7 per cent. At the end of this period of funding, which runs until the end of 2005–06, they will still be 4 per cent. below target. By contrast, Hertfordshire authorities are above target and three of them will remain above target at the end of the same period. The plea from Bedfordshire is that the gap between targets and budgets should be closed. When a group of all-party MPs from Bedfordshire went to see the previous Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), he received us very well. I was surprised to learn from him that because the 2001 census figures were being used to calculate expenditure over the next few years, the funding system did not have built into it any provision for an increase in population between the current year and 2005–06. Bedfordshire is expanding very rapidly. Will the Government reconsider their funding mechanism to see whether it could be given any increase in forthcoming years to make up for its rising population?
One of my constituents' concerns reflects a national concern—the problem of Yarl's Wood. Hon. Members will recall that Yarl's Wood, the largest asylum detention centre in Europe, was burned to the ground in February 2002. It is planned to reopen part of it later this year. We still have no information relating to the causes of the fire. The existing building is of the same construction as that which caused the fire, and we are not convinced that those who are detained there and work there will be safe. The criminal trial of those who are suspected of causing the fire, which is currently taking place, is likely to come to an end during the summer. Could the Government delay the reopening of Yarl's Wood until after the trial and the publication of 501 the inquiry report so that my constituents and those who will work and be detained at Yarl's Wood can have some idea of why the buildings caught fire so quickly and be sure that it will be safe in future?
On an international point, I, like many people who were born and brought up in the industrial north-west of England, have a passion for hills and mountains: in my case, those close to the Lake District and to north Wales. I draw the House's attention to the international year of the mountain that took place in 2002. I should like to ask the Government for their response to that. The international year of the mountain was designed to give the world an understanding of the issues affecting mountain communities. It was intended to ensure the present and future well-being of mountain communities by promoting conservation and sustainable development, increasing the awareness and knowledge of mountain ecosystems, and by recognising that in much the same way that the world depends on rainforests, it also depends on mountains.
I am indebted to Trail magazine and its deputy editor, Matt Swaine, whom I met to discuss these issues, for recognising that these issues are international and also affect this country. Our mountain areas are not as high as some in the world, and are concentrated in Scotland, north Wales and the Lake district. Will the Minister assess and let us know what success or otherwise the Government think that the international year of the mountain has had internationally? As far as this country is concerned, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of the international year of the mountain in the UK, and have they assessed the representations made during that year by those who love the mountains? What mechanism do they have in place for monitoring the resolution of various issues in relation to access, safety and other matters? I would be indebted if he would provide that information.
§ 4.1 pm
§ Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)
I was never much of a mathematician but my simple calculation is that I should probably restrict my speech to no more than five minutes, lest all Members who wish to speak do not have the opportunity so to do.
My subject is events in the Brain valley, which may not be as familiar to hon. Members as the Thames valley, the Colorado valley or the Rhine valley. It is nevertheless a picturesque piece of north Essex countryside, which is faced by present threats and problems. The River Brain makes its way down to the Blackwater and thence into the North sea, but the part to which I refer is that further upstream, and particularly involves the villages of Black Notley and White Notley. All villages have some dispute as to the origins of their name, and I am led to believe that one version is that Black Notley was affected by the black death, but those who lived in White Notley escaped that plague. The two villages are two or three miles apart, but between them lies a small hamlet known as the Green, which is adjacent to Black Notley, but most of which is in White Notley. The problem that faces this hamlet is an extension of a golf course.
Black Notley will be familiar to those who have studied science, as it was the birthplace of John Ray, the eminent botanist and naturalist, who in many parts of 502 the world is regarded as superior to Darwin himself. That is certainly the view locally. The threat today is not from a malicious weed, however, but from the extension of a golf course that is already situated there. The golf course already has 27 holes, and its owners intend to extend it by a further nine holes, and thus the little hamlet of the Green will become surrounded by a golf course. To some hon. Members, that might seem to be paradise, but to those who do not play golf it is not.
Primarily, the concern is the loss of high-grade agricultural land, and the extension is strongly opposed by the residents. It is also argued that there is probably not a need. My political division already has eight golf courses—it would be superfluous to name them—and adjacent divisions have others close to our boundaries. The question that I put to the House and thence to the wider world outside is whether there is a need in that particular place. Should it not be incumbent on those who make applications of this kind to provide numbers to show that there is insufficient provision at present? Indeed, it should be incumbent on those at the Notleys course as it now stands to show that there is an over-demand for the playing of golf as opposed to one for the use of the social facilities.
Local plans are mysteries of philosophy that few follow until a problem comes along, at which point people study them with great ardour. The local plan has this to say about the development of golf courses:The development of golf courses on prominent sites, scarp slopes, valleys, exposed plateaux and ridges will not be permitted.I do not know which of those prominent sites is relevant in this case, but the proposed course is to be on very high ground overlooking the whole sweep of the Brain valley, which has already been defaced by the existing course. The local residents are therefore concerned that there will be a fundamental breach not only of their privacy but of the local plan.
The final argument against the extension to the golf course, which would cause great harm to local residents, is the dangerous condition of the country road that winds its way along the slope of the Brain valley between the proposed golf course and the existing one. A 40 mph limit applies on that road, but those hon. Members who represent rural divisions will know that the adherence to such limits is not as strict as one might like it to be. One can imagine the risk to the lives of motorists and golfers as the golfers walk across the road with their trolleys, chatting to each other about the state of play at hole 27, as they make their way over to hole 28.
I raise this matter not because I am opposed to golf or because I believe that there should not be golf courses. There should, however, be a limit to the number of golf courses and to the number of holes that each course is permitted. We should strike a balance between the construction of golf courses and the preservation of our historic and scenic countryside, and we should give the latter the greater priority, rather than creating a surfeit of golf courses for which there appears to be no immediate need.
§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)
I am privileged to represent a constituency that contains the most beautiful scenery in the country. However, the drawback of such a large and remote constituency is that transport issues are always to the fore. Cutting the costs and increasing the frequency of transport links are vital to expanding economic activity and public services in the highlands and islands. That is why I want to use the opportunity of this debate to speak in favour of the HITRANS—the Highlands and Islands Strategic Transport Partnership—proposals for creating a network of frequent and affordable integrated air services throughout the highlands and islands and to other destinations such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The proposals will also mean improvements to the infrastructure of island airports and new construction work to provide, for the first time, scheduled air services to Oban, and from Oban to the islands of Coll and Colonsay. The market alone cannot build up and sustain such a network; Government financial support is required. The scheme has strong support from the Scottish Executive and from local government throughout the highlands and islands, but, because it requires public service obligations—PSOs—to be put on the routes, it also needs the support of the UK Department for Transport. That is because the decision to apply to the European Union for permission to impose a PSO on the network is a reserved power vested in the Department for Transport here. I hope that the Government will support this exciting new initiative, and I stress that it will not cost the Government here a penny; all the costs will be paid for by the Scottish Executive and local councils.
I hope that the Government will support the scheme and actively seek to persuade the European Union of the need for this PSO. The use of PSOs to secure regional air services at affordable fares and a regular frequency is commonplace throughout the rest of Europe. Countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Norway use PSOs frequently for this purpose. Given that the highlands and islands are the most sparsely populated area of Europe, surely we can do the same there. I believe that this is the only way to regenerate the economy of the highlands and islands and reverse centuries of population decline in the remoter parts of the region.
I also want to speak briefly about broadband. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee got it right in its recent report when it called on the Government to develop a strategy to make broadband accessible to all, and to set out the funding to be made available and the steps to be taken, according to a clear timetable, to achieve this objective.
A few years ago, we were all hopeful that the internet would be a great benefit to businesses in remote rural areas, allowing them to compete with businesses based in urban areas on equal terms in many fields. However, because of the slow progress of broadband installation, that objective is very much in doubt. If we leave broadband installation up to the market, it is obvious that remote areas of the country will never be connected. The amounts of money that the Government have so far given are insufficient to enable broadband connection in remote areas. Telecommunications is a reserved power, so I urge the Government to act urgently, implement the 504 report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and ensure that broadband access is available to everyone.
I conclude by giving an example of a Government official who does not appreciate the geography of the highlands and islands. One of the staff at the Government's much maligned tax credit helpline told one of my constituents in Campbeltown to go to his nearest tax office in Rothesay to collect an emergency payment. Those familiar with the geography of the west highlands will know that, to do that round trip, my constituent would have to make four ferry journeys and drive 128 miles. I am sure that the House will agree that the helpline was not particularly helpful.
Given the unique geography of the highlands and islands, unique solutions are often required to solve the problems created by that geography. I urge the Government, and, most important, their helpline officials, always to bear that geography in mind.
§ Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
I want to speak on genetic modification. I believe that, with the exception of Iraq, GM is the most important issue that the House faces. Tomorrow is the closing date for the Government's public debate on genetic modification. Six days ago, the strategy unit reported on the costs and benefits of GM crops. Two weeks ago, the European Parliament ruled on labelling, traceability and co-existence of GMOs and GM crops, in effect ending the moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops in Europe. Today, the Food Standards Agency released its findings on consumer views on GM food. The science review is expected next week. However, we have not had a single debate on the Floor of the House about the momentous decision that could be taken in our name before the end of this year.
The public remain hostile to GM, yet we, their elected representatives, are woefully unengaged in a debate that could lead to our constituents having no choice but to eat GM food. Why do I say no choice? Because evidence is growing that gene flow is a reality, and that once GM crops are grown commercially in this country their genetically modified traits will spread to non-GM crops and weeds. That phenomenon makes it extremely unlikely that the status of non-GM crops and organic crops co-existing with GM crops could be guaranteed. Without that guarantee, consumers will be denied choice, and the unpredictable consequences of GM Os in our food chain and our living environment will be irreversible.
Recent studies have shown that pollen can move much further than previously predicted. In Australia, herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape was found to cross-pollinate with oilseed rape up to 3 km from the source fields, yet the separation distance currently used in the test crops in Britain is only 200 m. French researchers have shown that the seeds of sugar beet weeds can travel more than 1 km from their source by hitch-hiking on farm machinery, leading the researchers to predict that the likelihood of gene flow through seeds has been much underestimated.
Even more spectacular than the evidence of scientific studies is the experience of Canadian farmers, who enthusiastically embraced commercial growing of GM 505 crops in the mid-1990s. About 75 per cent. of Canadian canola—oilseed rape to us—is GM herbicide-tolerant, enabling farmers to treat weeds with chemicals such as Round Up without harm to the plant. Not only has herbicide-tolerant gene flow to non-GM plants been a problem, but farmers growing entirely GM crops have experienced difficulties that seriously undermine the whole rationale of herbicide tolerance.
GM seeds shed at harvest time remain in the ground and germinate in future years. The result is that treating fields with, for example, Round Up before sowing a GM crop is no longer sufficient, as many of the weeds—or "volunteers" as they are called—are tolerant of the herbicide. The solution is to add a herbicide to the pack to kill the volunteers that have been modified for tolerance to the main herbicide. Thus a regime that was supposed to reduce herbicide use and introduce more benign herbicides now includes the much more toxic 2.4D and paraquat.
Resistance to more than one herbicide is also occurring, by a process of gene-stacking from the pollination of one herbicide-tolerant variety by another. In a paper reviewing the Canadian experience, English Nature said that it believed that such processes would be undesirable in Britain and out of keeping with our agri-environment policy. Gene flow, however, is not the only issue in the debate about the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and consumer choice of foods. Contamination incidents are becoming more and more frequent. We expect new European laws to be enacted later this year, which will give more teeth to traceability and listing; but if crops are grown commercially in the United Kingdom, such laws may serve only to prove that separation has become impossible.
In August last year, GM oilseed rape grown in the UK for farm scale evaluation was found to be contaminated with another GM variety that was not approved for use. In the United States last November, soya beans destined for human consumption were mixed with GM maize containing genes to produce pharmaceuticals. The two crops had been grown in rotation on the same land.
Once again, the experience of Canadian farmers is most telling. In a recent sample of 35 canola seeds, 95 per cent. were found to be contaminated by GM, and 50 per cent. of those had double resistance to glyfosate and glufosinate. As a consequence of contamination, organic canola farming on the prairies of Canada is impossible, and has been abandoned by most in the business. The Canadian experience is devastating. I have dealt only with the science, not with the farmers' many bad experiences with Monsanto, but suffice it to say that virtually all the agriculture industry—including the Canadian National Farmers Union and the Canadian Wheat Board—now oppose the introduction of GM wheat to Canada.
Friends of the Earth has looked at how that experience would be translated in Britain. It recently mapped out, for the first time, the locations of five of the wild plant varieties that are most closely related to oilseed rape, such as wild turnip and wild cabbage. The maps show that those species, which are known to cross-pollinate with the arable crop, are widespread across the 506 country. That suggests that if GM oilseed rape is grown practically anywhere in the UK, cross-breeding will be almost inevitable.
Experience is also being gained in the use of the herbicides themselves. One of the most positive points made about GM was that it could reduce the use of herbicides. Studies show that a decline in the use of chemicals on GM Bt cotton has taken place, while there have been no such results in the case of GM soya beans. The failure of GM-tolerant maize to provide the weed control advantages that were anticipated has necessitated the addition of the persistent chemical atrazine to the glufosinate weed killers designed to be used with GM crops. Furthermore, a GeneWatch study of GM Bt cotton suggests that even its success may be short-lived, as pests not killed by the Bt are on the increase.
I have dealt with only a few of the environmental issues surrounding GM crops in highly developed countries. The problems that such crops might inflict on the diverse and fragile environments of developing countries could be even more acute. Time does not permit me to pursue the potential health effects, but I know that a recent paper in "Nutrition and Health" found that there had been only 10 published studies of the health effects of GM food and feed. More than half were carried out in collaboration with GM companies. They found no effects on body organs, whereas several of the independent studies found unexplained changes.
GM is still a very new and untried technology for environmental release. This Government have worked hard to develop a sustainable agriculture policy, which would be fatally undermined by the commercialisation of GM crops. I urge my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to ensure that a full debate take place on this subject when we return in September, so that Members can take account of the wealth of information now available that points to the completely unacceptable effects of commercialising GM crops in this country.
§ M r. David Amess (Southend, West)
There are several points that I wish to raise before the House adjourns for the summer recess, and I shall try to deal with them very quickly. The first concerns Jo Martinson, a constituent of mine who died in a car accident last year at the age of 19. She was driving along Hamlet Court road with her boyfriend, and Mr. X, who was in a van, backed out of a turning, causing her to swerve into a tree. As a result, she lost her life.
The Solicitor-General has done everything that she possibly can to try to help the grieving parents and family of Jo Martinson to try to get justice for their daughter. As of this moment, there has been no trial of the person who is believed to have been in the vehicle responsible for Jo's death. Jo's family are very angry, and I should certainly be failing in my duty were I not to continue to raise this issue until justice has been done. Jo's mother recently wrote to me following a letter from the Rayleigh road policing unit. She says that she read Mr. X's letterwith a now familiar sense of disbelief; he has chosen to reflect on that which is accepted yet ignore salient, contentious issues.507The Director of Public Prosecutions reported that 'The offence, (no insurance), was alleged to have been committed on 7th November 2001, but the Police did not lay the information until 24th May 2002, seventeen days after the six month limitation had expired'. He continued: 'it could not be argued that the Police were unaware of the insurance matter'.As you know, he was clear that: 'in advising the Police to support any charges relating to Miss Martinson's death, the reviewing Crown Prosecutor did advise that the other Road Traffic Act offences relating to Mr. X's vehicle were made out …it remains the responsibility of Police to start proceedings'.The Solicitor-General agreed with those points. My constituent continues:The police clearly did not follow advice. The Solicitor General recognised errors and allegations 'should have been pursued, and they were not'.It is therefore difficult not to take issue withthe letter from Rayleigh, which was "dismissive" and "irrelevant". She continues by saying that, "incredibly", the gentleman writing the letterconsidered the newspaper statement accurate and acceptable, suggesting complacency is a standard Police response.My constituent feels that the gentleman from Rayleigh attempted to evade the issues and to evade responsibility.
Mr. X's car—which backed out into the road, thereby causing the accident—was untaxed and not roadworthy, and Mr. X had only one eye. To this day, all that has happened is that he has received a £60 fine.
The second issue is the trial of three British nationals that is taking place in Egypt. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and the hon. Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for East Ham (Mr. Timms) are also affected by that trial, on which we have spent a great deal of time. The three Britons are accused of being involved in an organisation that is intent on undermining the Egyptian Government. The trial has been in the national news and has gone on for a very long time. It has been started and then stopped, and I am delighted that Baroness Symons has made a very strong statement about it. Those involved became ill when they were brought to court, and the trial was again stopped. However, I am delighted to say that today, the defence will be heard. We had a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador, and I hope that matters will now proceed very swiftly and that there will be a successful outcome for our constituents.
The Secretary of State for Education made his statement to the House, which we all welcome. I hope that it has not come too late for Southend where, on average, secondary schools face a £400,000 shortfall in funding and primary schools face a £50,000 shortfall. The chairman of the local secondary heads association has written to me to say thatseveral schools in Southend are forced to declare deficit budgets in this current year (including my own), and we are having to meet LEA officers to draw up four-year recovery plans. In my school, we are in the absurd position of having a £3 million new extension project due to open this September, but we will not have the money to clean it or maintain it!That is absolutely crazy.
Marvellous things are happening in education in my constituency. We have a new special needs centre; I was fortunate enough to be present at the opening of the Whitehall performing arts centre, which is adjoined to 508 Eastwood school; I shall be going to the opening of a new sports centre shortly. I hope that the school funding fiasco never happens again.
My next point concerns mobile phone masts. I am totally dissatisfied with the way in which this matter continues to be handled. The Library briefing states:Mobile telephones emit radio waves that can penetrate human tissue, producing a heating effect. Safety guidelines produced by the National Radiological Protection Board are based solely on avoiding the known biological consequences of excess heating.
Sir William Stewart amplified his warnings to the British Association in September 2001, and called for the cost of handsets to be increased to restrict their use by children. He said also that he would not allow his grandchildren to use a mobile phone. Concern about children relates partly to the thinness of their skulls; up to 50 per cent. more radiation is absorbed by children compared with adults. I should have thought that, following the recent disgraceful episodes concerning the abuse of the internet, this House owes it to our children to give a greater steer on the overuse of mobile phones than we have at the moment.
This week, a campaign called "Keep Mail on Rail" visited this House. I was concerned to learn from a constituent that the mail is to be taken off the railways and put on the roads. I agree with those who lobbied us saying that that would result in increased pollution, undermine the Government's transport policy, cause significant job losses and result in an inferior delivery service. The gentleman who suggested this change does not have a marvellous track record of success and I hope that Ministers will look at it again.
On crime, I hope that the Minister will urge the Home Office to look again at the pay and conditions of police officers. In Southend, we are continuing to lose police officers to the Met, where the pay is £6,000 more. There has also been a cut in overtime. We have seen drug offences rising by 16 per cent. over the last year, with violent crime up by 20 per cent. and gun crime up by 35 per cent. Anyone who says that we do not need more police is wrong.
In conclusion, if any Members want to pop to Southend to enjoy our glorious summer, they will receive a warm welcome.
§ Tom Cox (Tooting)
I wish to speak about Pakistan. I declare an interest as I am the chairperson of the British-Pakistani parliamentary group. We are an active group of Members of both Houses of Parliament with a close relationship with the Pakistan High Commissioner here in London. I am also the chairperson of the United Kingdom Commonwealth Parliamentary Association branch, but I do not speak in that capacity today.
What Members of both Houses who belong to the all-party group on Pakistan seek is Pakistan's return to full membership of the Commonwealth. I understand that the Commonwealth ministerial action group will meet in September to discuss the issue. Nine Commonwealth countries are members of that group, and they will make the recommendation for or against Pakistan's return to full membership of the Commonwealth. The United 509 Kingdom is not a member of the action group, but has great influence within the Commonwealth, as I well know, and I seek the UK's support on the matter before the discussions take place.
We all know that the history of Pakistan since independence has been clouded with problems. There have been military takeovers and parliamentary elections in which different political parties have been elected. When those parliamentary elections took place, we all hoped that the elected Government would bring about real changes within Pakistan. Sadly, that did not happen for a variety of reasons, including Government incompetence, general corruption and corruption at the highest level.
Pakistan is a country of 130 million people and it has close links with the UK. Large communities of people came to this country from Pakistan. They have made their homes here, but they all retain links with Pakistan. They are proud of the country of their birth. When I meet them locally, I find—as I am sure do other hon. Members—that they always mention Pakistan's return to full membership of the Commonwealth. I would like the Government to give their fullest support in discussions before the ministerial action group meets.
Let us reflect on the appalling political circumstances of Pakistan in 1999. General Musharraf took power—thankfully, in a bloodless takeover—and said clearly that the return to parliamentary democracy, free of corruption and the incompetence of political parties, and with the support of the people of Pakistan, was a key commitment. I am delighted, as is the all-party group, to say that progress has been made in Pakistan in respect of many of the problems that it faces. Tough action has been taken to root out corruption at every level of government.
We all know about the evils of terrorism in Pakistan, involving various terrorist groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Pakistan faces the ongoing problems that resulted from the military actions in Afghanistan against the former Soviet Union, and the more recent military action after which nearly 2 million people went into Pakistan as refugees. That is Pakistan's responsibility, and it is to the country's credit that it has—with very little help from any other organisation in the world—housed, fed and done everything possible to support those refugees.
As a further example of what is happening in Pakistan, elections for the national assembly took place on 10 October last year. Out of more than 70 million registered voters, over 29 million voted. The assembly met on 16 November last year and was in session until 22 April this year. Several parties were elected to the assembly, including three major parties. There is clearly a move to parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.
Recently, President Musharraf made an official visit to the UK. He met many senior politicians, including the Prime Minister. He also met the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I am told—I am not a member of the Committee—that a frank discussion took place between the President and members of the Committee. After that meeting, the President spoke to a well-attended meeting of the all-party Pakistan group. He was frank and honest with us, and explained the 510 problems that he faces. He also spoke of his commitment to govern Pakistan with the help of members of the national assembly and the people of Pakistan, and to see that the move to parliamentary democracy continues. The President then went to Washington, where he had several meetings with President Bush.
The meetings in London and Washington are clear signs that Pakistan is being accepted by the world— and rightly so—as it returns to parliamentary democracy. The need to encourage the return to parliamentary democracy and the introduction of many other reforms, for which the President readily accepts the need, is so important that the all-party Pakistan group believes that it is essential to grant the country a return to full membership of the Commonwealth. The UK, while not a member of the group that will make that decision, has enormous influence on it. I know that because as the chairperson of the United Kingdom Commonwealth Parliamentary Association branch, I meet Heads of Commonwealth countries regularly and chat about many issues. I know the respect and influence that this country has in the Commonwealth, and that is why I have sought to raise this important issue today.
§ Bob Spink (Castle Point)
As a result of bad odours in south Essex, residents have felt great anger and fear. People's quality of life has been severely damaged, and many have reported serious health consequences. Therefore, the Yellow Advertiser ran a campaign and a coupon petition. Many residents wrote in and, as a result of the campaign and the information about their experience, several recommendations were put forward, which I will now summarise for the House.
The first recommendation was to establish funding and support for 24-hour testing of air quality by general circulation models, strategically placed to monitor areas around Pitsea landfill, BP Coryton and other key sites. BP has agreed to install its own monitors, but only for the first three months. The second is to ensure that all information is passed to the Environment Agency and made public within 14 days via the agency's website, so the public know what is going on if it happens again in the future. Experience has shown that the Environment Agency has in the past relied solely on air quality data and notification of breaches supplied by the very operators that it is supposed to be regulating. This so-called self-regulation is not economic for the Environment Agency; there is an obvious conflict of interest and it is not an effective way to monitor possible offenders.
Thirdly, the analysis and testing on samples of emissions taken at Pitsea in May this year by Golder Associates should continue until irrefutable evidence that they pose no threat to health is available to the public on the Environment Agency's website. Fourthly, if any possible health risks are identified, all appropriate legal action must be pursued against the offender. That has not been done, even though there have been smells for seven months.
Fifthly, under current legislation, environmental health departments are unable to take action of any kind against offenders polluting the environment from a neighbouring district or borough. The Pitsea tip is in the 511 constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), although the smells mostly impact on my constituents who live next door to the tip. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his great campaigning efforts on this matter.
The problem has meant that Castle Point borough council's environmental health department has been unable to bring any action against Cleanaway, the pit operator, even though the smells have caused serious health problems—that has not been refuted—for several months. Although it is accepted that the Environment Agency has that responsibility, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should investigate the matter with a view to preventing a culture of buck passing. That has been the greatest and most persistent complaint that residents have made to me and the Yellow Advertiser over the past six months.
Sixthly, through the Yellow Advertiser, residents asked Ministers to investigate how the Environment Agency deals with bad smells in the future with a view to developing a protocol of proactive guidelines to regulate how it investigates and pursues any reoccurrence of the problem. That will avoid the trial-and-error approach that was adopted at Pitsea from February 2003. That led to a haphazard and, ultimately, longer remedial process, and therefore much longer suffering for the residents of Castle Point than was necessary.
For example, if the Environment Agency receives 10 or more complaints of odours that are accompanied by reports from doctors of possible health symptoms within a 24-hour period, GCMs testing should be deployed to pinpoint the source and to identify the compounds present at the earliest possible moment so that action can follow and the public can be reassured rather than left unduly concerned for six months, as happened this year.
The Environment Agency did not test the emissions despite numerous reports of stinging eyes, choking, nausea, inability to sleep, headaches and even a death from asthma on a playing field close to the tip. Instead, it relied on archaic wind direction reports and physical smell checks to pinpoint the source. In today's technological world, that is just not good enough. It amounts to a "Dad's Army" type farce, and is both incompetent and unacceptable.
I congratulate the Yellow Advertiser on its superb and public-spirited campaign, with Steve Neale at the helm. The newspaper did a great job looking after the public interest.
I turn now to the Government's attack on communities through their policies for post offices, chemists, police stations and, indeed, fire stations and retained fire officers. In particular, however, I shall consider post offices. There are 11 million pensioners and 5 million of them collect their money from post offices and 1 million of them do not have bank or building society accounts. They do not want to deal with banks; they fear that as they are anxious about PIN numbers and technology. The Government's policy has not been thought through. They are driving post offices out of business, and that shows a callous attitude towards the elderly people who put the "Great" in Britain. They created the wealth of this country, but do not get a fair share of it. Retired people deserve better.
512 The Government must have a cooling-off period in which to make it much clearer to everyone that they can be exempt from the changes if they so wish and can remain exempt for as long as they wish. The Government should promote and not damage post office accounts.
Let me give an example from the mail that I have received during the past two weeks. Mr. K.S. of Canvey Island wrote to me saying that he had decided to apply to have his pension paid into a Post Office account. He said:A welcome pack duly arrived with an information leaflet containing at least six reasons why I should go to a Bank or building society rather than my chosen course. One of these was that the administrator of this scheme disclaimed any liability for any discrepancies or failure to pay money into my new account, very reassuring!He continued:since this government have been in power it has become increasingly obvious that the general public and the pensioners in particular are being treated with complete contempt".
I put that matter to one side and turn to the European Union. On 14 July, I asked the Government how many regulations originating from the EU have been implemented by the Cabinet Office in each of the past five years. The Government replied that the average figure was 2,800. That is costing business an enormous amount. The British Chambers of Commerce says that there is too much regulation. It claims that the situation destroys jobs and the economy, undermines investment in this country and removes our competitive advantage, especially over continental Europe. Such regulation runs alongside massive business tax hikes and 60 stealth tax rises, so the Labour Government are leading the country toward a high tax and low wealth generation economy. They are taking the "Great" out of Britain.
It is time for us to consider the common agricultural policy again—it was past its time some 20 years ago. The policy is too costly, it damages international development and it is holding back enlargement, which would improving security on continental Europe. The control and subsidy of agriculture in this country should be repatriated to this country for the benefit of our farmers, all British consumers, our environment and the developing international community.
§ Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in the debate. The League Against Cruel Sports recently made me aware of welfare concerns surrounding greyhound racing. I am not an opponent of the sport. Indeed, I have attended many events, although I always manage to leave them with less money than when I started.
I was unaware—like many hon. Members, I am sure—of the industry's problems until recently. Thousands of dogs go missing each year after their racing careers have ended, as do thousands of puppies that do not make the grade required to race. There are worries about what happens when dogs are racing. We should examine issues such as the size of tracks and the treatment that dogs receive in kennels.
I emphasise again that neither the League Against Cruel Sports nor I think that the sport is inherently cruel, unlike hunting with dogs. I do not advocate a ban 513 on the sport, but real issues must be addressed. Reform is required, and the ideal tool with which to achieve reform is the animal welfare Bill that we expect to be published in draft later this year.
As long ago as 1990, the Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into the greyhound racing industry. Although the report concentrated on the financing of the industry, it made reference to animal welfare concerns, especially the problem of re-homing dogs. The Committee recommended that track owners and bookmakers should be required to donate part of their profits to the Retired Greyhound Trust. It is a great shame that, some 13 years later, that has still not happened.
As hon. Members may be aware, the greyhound racing industry is extremely lucrative. For example, the Walthamstow track has an annual turnover in excess of £8 million. Many greyhound stadiums are set to apply for casino status under the proposed gambling Bill, so the tracks will probably become more profitable. There is no doubt that there is a lot of money in the business, but a miniscule percentage of the money bet on greyhound racing goes toward the welfare of the dogs. That is pitiful and a great shame. I support the league's campaign to give a penny in the pound of gambling turnover to the welfare of the dogs. They deserve more than that, in my opinion.
There are welfare concerns about the greyhounds before their careers begin. About 5,500 are bred for racing each year across the country. Many of them sell for more than £1,000. Some 2,000 of the puppies, however, never make it to the tracks; they just disappear. The same problem occurs in Ireland on a much greater scale. We have to assume the worst and accept that they are not all humanely put to sleep by vets. Licensing greyhound breeders is a way to address that problem. All puppies could be registered at birth and the statistics published in full. That would avoid the misery experienced by thousands of puppies that go missing each year, many of which are killed in a less than humane way.
There is also the massive problem of re-homing retired greyhounds after their racing careers have ended. That is mainly due to lack of provision. Some 10,000 greyhounds retire from British greyhound racing each year. Most of them are untraceable. Only about 2,000 a year are known to be re-homed by welfare groups, including the Retired Greyhound Trust. That figure is extremely worrying. A strategy clearly needs to be put in place so that every dog is re-homed, not just the 20 per cent. that are currently re-homed.
Although greyhound owners should accept responsibility for their dogs, so must the industry. Contrary to popular belief, greyhounds are suitable as pets. I am sure that many owners keep their dogs after they finish racing. However, that is perhaps not the case for the majority. Once the dogs start to cost their owners money instead of making them money, the owners are tempted with a quick way out of the tie of keeping the dog. We must address that.
There are also concerns about the dogs' welfare during their racing careers. That is sometimes difficult to detect, but some conditions in which the dogs run 514 damage their health and welfare. Dogs frequently have to run around very tight bends or run with minor injuries. Track surfaces are often the cause of concern, with too hard or too soft surfaces causing injury to the dogs. Paddy Sweeney, Britain's best known greyhound vet, argues that tracks should have a larger radius to enable the greyhounds to run upright so that their joints are not strained by the centrifugal force exerted on them when they run around tight bends. The suggested recommendation is that all new tracks should have a radius of at least 80 m.
Track vets are employed by racing promoters, which means that they may come under pressure not to pull dogs out of races if they are injured. Clearly, we cannot generalise about the standards of the vets employed in the industry, and I am sure that they are of the highest quality. I merely explain that they may come under pressure to make the "right" decision. Perhaps the solution is for an independent body to employ the vet, who would have full rights to stop races and/or withdraw dogs if they are unfit to race. Vets are solely there to look after the welfare of the dogs. It is also necessary to have fixed minimum standards at track kennels. I remember reading about the dog Football Focus, which died in track kennels at Catford last year owing to the lack of air conditioning. We must prevent accidents like that occurring.
The greyhound industry does not protest about the lack of funding for welfare. Both the British Greyhound Racing Board and the National Greyhound Racing Club were invited to make a submission to the consultation on the animal welfare Bill. Neither thought it sufficiently important to respond. The Department for Culture Media and Sport has spoken to the industry about greyhound welfare and recognises that there is room for improvement.
In May 2002, the greyhound industry signed up to the charter of racing greyhounds. Although that is welcome, it is not binding and does not by any means cover all the issues that need to be addressed, especially the employment of independent vets. The league's idea of a penny in the pound for greyhound welfare has a great deal of merit. That would take the form of a statutory levy, similar to the one in the horse-racing industry. The provision would enable homes to be found for the 12,000 dogs that are surplus to requirements every year and could also go towards grants to upgrade tracks and kennels. It could even enable the micro-chipping of dogs so that they can be monitored and so that the circumstances surrounding those that go missing can be properly investigated.
The animal welfare Bill that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will introduce will provide an ideal opportunity to address this issue. I urge right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to support that measure. It is a long-awaited Bill that will provide the necessary means to reform the industry of greyhound racing by making better provision for greyhounds, upon whose welfare the industry relies, and ensure its continued success, which I am sure we all want.
§ Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)
I shall touch on two issues in my 10-minute slot, which I shall try not to use in full. The first issue has already been mentioned, 515 and that is Iraq. The number of speeches on Iraq indicates that Members wish to see the issue debated fully and properly. Perhaps there is a need for a cross-cutting Question Time on the matter, given that a number of different Departments are dealing with restructuring and humanitarian aid. There are serious questions to be asked, and some confusion has arisen from Ministers' answers. A debate would give us the opportunity to resolve that confusion.
I shall give an example. On 25 June, the Prime Minister told the House that the Iraqis were being disarmed. It was clear by implication that they were being entirely disarmed. Having been to Iraq with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) at the beginning of June, I knew that the Prime Minister's answer was not fully correct. I asked the Ministry of Defence the same question: what was being done to disarm the Iraqis? The answer was slightly different from that of the Prime Minister. I was told that they were being allowed to hold on to non-automatic rifles and small arms. Again, that is not a fully correct answer. I was told clearly on two occasions by British commanders while I was in Iraq that they were allowing Iraqis to hold on to automatic weapons for their self-defence. Some clarity is required.
We need a debate. We also need a Question Time that will enable us to get answers from the Government. I have written to the Prime Minister on that issue and I am still waiting for a reply. It will not come this side of the recess; I suppose that it could be waiting in my pigeonhole, but I doubt it.
A number of other issues arose while we went round with the different battle groups. A huge number of munitions are lying around on the ground. It is horrifying. The Iraqi third army used metal containers as ammunition dumps. These containers are scattered across the desert, and little is being done to clear them up. The poverty of a number of tribal groups is such that children are being sent into the containers to take munitions out of wooden boxes so that they can be burned to boil water. Water has to be boiled because there is no clean water supply. At one location, mortar shells were scattered on the ground, the wooden boxes having been removed.
The poverty is such that the metals that make the shells have a value on the black market. Children are taking the shells back to their families, so that the shells can be taken apart and the metals sold on the black market. It is not surprising that a number of children have lost their lives doing this. The Army is doing what it can to advise and warn parents. It has a poster campaign. It is doing the best that it can with the resources at its disposal to clear up the munitions. However, it does not have sufficient resources.
An electricity supply is necessary so that water can be boiled by that means. The electricity system was installed by the Russians. Some power stations were damaged during the first Gulf war, and they have not been repaired since. Some power stations are running at only 10 or 20 per cent. of their capacity. The system is interlinked so that different power stations have to be online before there can be a supply. I have asked why the Russians are not there helping to rebuild their power stations. They put them in and they understand them.
516 However, they are not there. Serious questions need to be asked. Why are we not engaging the Russians in the rebuilding of the power station system?
The Army is doing all that it can to provide and maintain a water supply. Damage is being done to the water supply, and more needs to be done to maintain it, not by the Army but by the Department for International Development, other Departments and the UN. It is frustrating that British soldiers constantly have to repair electrical cables and the water supply when their primary task should be security and maintaining law and order. To put it bluntly, there are not enough non-governmental organisations to do the work, and there is not enough aid from the Government.
I shall touch on two final issues to do with Iraq. First, we visited a doctor's surgery. It had been looted at the end of the conflict and everything was taken. The Army had done a wonderful job, because it arranged for builders to put new doors and locks on, and made arrangements to help with the restocking. The UN had provided some drugs, and the surgery also had some shelves. From its limited budget, the Army provided a refrigerator to keep drugs at the right temperature, but essential items were missing from the pharmacy. I was given a list, by the lady doctor in charge, of the basic equipment that was required, including an autoclave, a baravan, stethoscopes, a water cooler, air conditioning so that drugs could be kept for longer, bandages, and simple chairs and tables. Why, several weeks after the end of the conflict, was more not being done to make sure that those essential items for the running of a medical centre were provided?
Secondly, I asked DFID what we were doing to help restore the banking system, which is in chaos. However, I have to say that when I worked in Iraq in 1982, the banking system was in chaos—the exchange rate at the bank was very different from what it was on the black market. The Army has had to provide help to establish and run the bank in Basra. The Army has many tasks and talents, but running banks is not one of which I am aware. However, it is doing what it can to try to provide stability. When DFID says that it is doing nothing to help the banking system, I despair, because we ought to be doing something to help it. Getting it running properly is essential to the economy. I therefore hope that the Government will give us more time to debate those important issues.
I shall touch briefly on another issue on which I have been trying to press the Government for answers—the present status of general development orders. The Government are currently reviewing the planning structure, but nothing is going to be done about general development orders, which allow dock companies, railway companies and airports to build what they like on their land, provided that it has something to do with the running of the port, airport or the railway line. Those developments can have a dramatic impact on people who live close to them. Railtrack is currently putting up mobile phone masts along the length of its tracks. No planning consent is required—it can just build them. Local people fear that, once those structures are up, if Railtrack applies for commercial use it will be hard for inspectors to refuse such an application. The structures are already in place, so it would be illogical for inspectors to turn down that application and say, 517 "You've got a structure, but don't use it." Many communities fear that unsightly phone masts are being constructed for commercial use at a later date.
I shall give an example in my constituency, which includes Teignmouth port. I wish it every success, but it has the right to build whatever it likes on the quay. A few years ago, it took down its old sheds and built a new one. Someone standing in their front garden in Alexander terrace can see a short bit of road—it is about the same length as the distance between the Government and Opposition Benches—then a railway line and another bit of road, with a tin shed along half its length which is about as high as the lower part of the Chamber. The railway track runs between the tin wall and the houses, and the tin wall acts as an echo chamber. No environmental consideration was given to its construction. If there had been a normal planning process, no one would have allowed such a structure to be built, creating such environmental damage. We need to review general development orders. I am not suggesting that they should be part of the normal local authority planning process, but something needs to be done to impose some control on what is allowed to be built by our ports and airports. At present, they can build what they like.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)
On Monday I received a helpful response to a question that I had tabled to the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration. I want to share the information with other Members, and I hope it will be passed on to their constituents to whom it applies.
My question was:when the two-year probationary period to qualify for indefinite leave to remain will come into force.The reply from the Minister stated:The two-year probationary period on marriage was introduced as one of a number of changes made to the Immigration Rules in 1 April 2003.The changes were part of a package of measures to tackle the growing menace of fraudulent or abusive marriages to circumvent immigration control.
For hon. Members who do not deal with such cases, I should explain that over the past six years I have dealt with about 40 cases of young women who were not forced into marriage, but went along willingly with the arrangements made by their parents to marry a young first cousin in Pakistan. They went over to Pakistan to marry him and subsequently came back and applied to act as a sponsor to bring the young husband to the UK. He came here, and shortly before the year was out, the young lady would apply for indefinite leave to remain for him.
What happened in about 40 cases that came to my attention was that as soon as the young men received their indefinite leave to remain, they left their wife and went to live with the extended family. Sometimes the girls would be pregnant by that time and would be extremely upset. Their parents were extremely upset because they had arranged the marriage. The girl would come to me and say, "I want him deported", and I had to say, "I'm sorry, you've just applied for him to have 518 indefinite leave to remain. There is nothing that I or the Government can do. He is going to stay. He has his indefinite leave to remain."
The change is that the man cannot have indefinite leave to remain for two years. It is not much of a concession, but it will help to deter young men who were planning to come to the UK and get round immigration controls. The Government could probably go further. Often the young men go back to Pakistan, meet up with the young lady whom they would have married in any case, go through a marriage in Pakistan, come back and apply to act as a sponsor to bring the Pakistani young lady over as their wife. They are entitled to do that. They have indefinite leave to remain, so they can apply to act as a sponsor.
The situation would be helped and the young men would be deterred from doing that if a further measure were introduced by law specifying that they had to have citizenship before becoming a sponsor. That would take about five years from entering the country. It would deter the young men from putting those young ladies through a terrible experience. Having done all they could to make for a good marriage, the girls are cast to one side in favour of a woman whose marriage to the man had probably already been arranged.
I shall mention two other changes that were made on 1 April. A further measure wasintroducing a 'no switching' into marriage provision after entry to the United Kingdom for those coming for a short period of six months or less".—[0fficial Report, 14 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 54W.]That means that those who have come to the country on visitors' visas cannot suddenly and conveniently find a wife in order to get indefinite leave to remain.
The other measure prevents someone from acting as a sponsor in a marriage or fiancée application until the prospective spouse is 18. Personally, I would prefer the age 21 to be specified, but 18 is very welcome. The measure will protect girls from being forced into marriage and taken back to Pakistan for that purpose when they are aged 15 or 16. It will ensure that their parents will know in advance that they cannot act as sponsors until the girl is 18, so they will probably not trouble to take her back until they are 18 to go through the procedure of arranging a marriage and acting as sponsors.
That measure will help many girls. I believe that most of the girls who are forced into marriage are very young and are aged 15, 16 or 17. If they can mature that little bit more, until they are 18, they will have a much better chance of taking on their parents in an argument and saying, "I do not mind having an arranged marriage, but I do not want to go back to Pakistan to marry this particular person." I think that the measure will help a great deal.
It would also be a good idea to apply such an age limit to people applying to come to the United Kingdom, so that when someone is acting as a sponsor for a young person from Pakistan, Bangladesh or wherever else, that young person would also have to be 18 to enter the country—although, in my view, 21 might be a better age. Such a measure would make a big difference to many young women such as those whom I have helped. Many of them were brought over as a spouse, sometimes when they were as young as 15—their passports were often changed—after which they were unceremoniously 519 dumped by their husband and their in-laws. In such situations, I am left to pick up the pieces, along with the Home Office. By and large, almost every case involves some measure of domestic violence, so we can use the domestic violence concession. I appreciate that concession, which I think was a brilliant idea. It saves a lot of girls from unnecessary suffering.
All those measures represent tinkering around the edges. I appreciate what the Home Office has done so far, but I believe that the solution to all these problems would be for Asian parents to arrange marriages for their sons and daughters within the settled community. None the less, I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will convey my gratitude and that of my female Asian constituents to the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration.
§ Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer).
We have heard some tremendous contributions today. In particular, I should like to associate myself with the remarks made about the Royal Hospital Haslar by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I served at the Royal Hospital Haslar, and in my opinion, its demise has been the final nail in the coffin of the Defence Medical Services. Ministers should be under no illusion: the Defence Medical Services are a central part of our defensive capability. They are in a truly dreadful state and the situation must be addressed as a matter of urgency. I have to tell the Minister that the new centre for defence medicine at Selly Oak has not been well received by those who serve in the Defence Medical Services. It was a sad day indeed when the Royal Hospital Haslar, with all its potential, finally met its end.
It was also a great pleasure to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), some of which I agree with and some of which I disagree with. GM is an emerging technology, but the next one will undoubtedly be nanotechnology. Last week, I led a debate on that subject in Westminster Hall, but the response that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), was less than comprehensive. I have written to him in the hope that he might revisit the Hansard record and address the points that I put to him.
In particular, we need to know where we are going with the debate on nanotechnology, because I fear the some of the mistakes that were made in relation to the GM public debate might be repeated in that context. I hope that we will have learned lessons from that—especially in relation to the wisdom, or lack of it, of having the public debate before the full evidence was available to present to the public. That is a topsy-turvy way of proceeding. I hope that we do not repeat that mistake when we deal publicly, as we must, with the next emerging technology—nanotechnology.
During the summer, we will see the last days of community health councils. That worries many hon. Members; some of us argued in Committee that it was folly. I pay tribute to the work of the community health councils that have served my constituents for more than 520 a quarter of a century. I feel strongly that CHCs represented a good foundation on which to build, and I fear that after their demise our constituents will suffer from a lack of representation at that level. They have been valuable to me personally as a constituency MP in advising me of the feelings of people locally on health issues; they will be sorely missed.
We have not covered health greatly in this summer Adjournment debate; that is strange, given that health is probably the No. 1 priority of most of our constituents—certainly, my mailbag suggests that that is the case. I pay tribute to the Government for being able to spend historically large sums of money on health. I equally pay tribute to their predecessor for providing the economy necessary to achieve that spend. We should never fool ourselves that we can get health care on the cheap. Spending is relatively easy: it should not be considered a proxy for achieving the good health care that we all want for our constituents. The tricky bit is achieving the health outcomes that Britons have the right to expect. In that context, it is disingenuous to talk euphemistically of investment when we really mean spending. Words mean what words say, and it is important, in the context of health, to talk of spending, not to assume that spending equals an investment that will produce a return.
Spending on health services increased in real terms by 22 per cent. at the turn of the century, but hospital activity went up by just 1.6 per cent. Indeed, by their own deeply flawed star rating measures, the Government are failing, despite their largesse. Only this week, we heard that the number of zero star rated trusts has increased and that the performance of ambulance services has gone down. Those statistics come with a health warning, because one cannot realistically expect a 22 per cent. rise in spend to produce a straight-line proportionate increase in activity of anything like 22 per cent., let alone a 22 per cent. increase in health outcomes: the marginal utility is manifestly much less. I suggest, however, that it should be significantly greater than 1.6 per cent.
It is our duty to ask what has gone wrong. Part of the answer clearly lies in public sector inflation running at 5.3 per cent. There is a whole raft of reasons for that, including salary costs, national insurance, pensions and the use of expensive agency staff. Health service inflation outstrips just about every other form of inflation. Despite rationing by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which has contained costs to some extent, the cost of drugs and medical devices is set to rocket.
Less obvious to outsiders would be the fact that many people are in the wrong jobs—non-productive jobs or jobs where the product is obscure. When I was in the Royal Navy, we reached the tipping point at which the number of admirals exceeded the number of ships afloat. It seems that we have reached that point in the NHS, with the number of bureaucrats exceeding the number of beds. That is nothing to be proud of. Allied with that is an incomprehensible budgetary framework in which health care managers are encouraged to spend in a short-term way—to adopt a "spend now or lose it" mentality. That has spawned a great range of jobs with no obvious purpose, as The Sunday Times rather unkindly highlighted at the weekend when it referred to what it described as rubbish jobs being thrown at a perceived public need, with little thought about what they would achieve in terms of outcomes.
521 So it is that between 1997 and 2002 the number of doctors and nurses went up by 15 per cent., but the number of administrators soared by 46 per cent. Many of those managerial jobs do good things—there is no denying that—but surely that deployment of our 22 per cent. uplift in resources at the turn of the century would have been better spent on health care staff who are directly involved in a hands-on way with patients. My Select Committee found that tens of million of pounds had been lost to the system—we had no idea where tens of millions of pounds had gone under the NHS cancer plan. Nobody appears to have accounted for it let alone had any idea about what positive outcomes it had produced. That is hopeless.
Last week, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the data on which he was relying for his comparison by 2005 of EU spend and UK spend on health care were weighted or unweighted, projected or static, or whether they were based on the Office for National Statistics' newly computed data, which involve heath care spend by a raft of organisations outwith the NHS—charities, churches, nursing homes and so on. He addressed the first point honestly and said that it was weighted. On the other two, he was obscure, so we have to make our own conclusions on that.
Government spending on health care and education centrally seems to sit uneasily with the deficits that we see locally in our schools and hospitals. That is a great concern in my area, where the strategic health authority has a huge deficit—almost insurmountable, I would suggest—which it is being told to get on with sorting out itself, with little assistance, it seems, from the centre. How much worse will that get when local, apparently accountable and democratic governing bodies sit and are responsible for these budgets? I suspect that Ministers will rusticate responsibility even more.
It is glib and dishonest to say that the increase in spending must go hand in hand with reform without a clear vision of what that reform means. Somewhere along the way, the Government have lost the plot, and our constituents' health expectations are the poorer for it.
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
The principal topic with which I am going to deal this afternoon—I shall speak briefly, in case you have the chance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to fit in two other speakers—is a riveting one: multi-agency working. Some Members will be surprised to hear me use such an expression, because even the expression "new Labour" has yet to pass my lips. To speak in the language of it might therefore seem strange.
Multi-agency working, however, is basically quite a good idea. It says that what we must do is get different people—social services, local borough councils, the police service, the probation service and everyone else who might have some share of a problem—to work together rather than carve it up so that each does their different thing and nothing much joins together. My experience, however, is that we have a long way to go. I want the Government to consider seriously whether, 522 when it is clear that multiple agencies need to be involved in a problem, we should try to get somebody to take lead responsibility for it.
Let me give an example from my constituency. I was approached by two very worried parents, both aged over 70 and frail in health, the mother suffering from cancer. They were the parents of someone whom I will call Joe Bloggs. Joe was in prison and about to come out. He had been given a two-and-a-half year sentence but was being let out on licence after a year and a half. He had been a heroin addict and was clean. I discovered that he was going to come out a week before he did so because his parents simply did not know to whom to turn. As Members of Parliament, we can get access to a lot of people whom others cannot normally get hold of, so when his parents came to see me, I was able to speak to the governor of the prison, the chief probation officer, the head of social services, and someone at the housing department. I spent a week doing all that, but at the end of it all, this man was coming out of prison clean, but with no prospect at all of remaining so.
The man's parents were told that there were two possible arrangements for when he came out of prison. The first was that no one would meet him; the second was that they could meet him. However, they were very frail and upset, their grandchildren often stayed with them in their house, and there was no way that someone who needed that level of care and attention could be looked after at home. So, in the end, I agreed to do it. I got up at 5.45 am and went to the prison with the parents. I had made all the arrangements. The prison then told us that he would be released at 9 am. At 10.30 am, he finally emerged, so we had already lost an hour and a half out of the day in which we could have been trying to solve his problem.
I then took him to his home, where his parents helped him in various ways. I wanted the bond between him and his parents to be established before I moved him on, because he would otherwise have thought that they did not care. He also needed to know, however, that it was impossible for his parents to look after him. He understood that, and we left his home and went to the probation office. The probation office is meant to be the lead agency for someone on licence, but the probation officer in charge of the case was a probationer himself, so it went to another probation officer.
Three days before the man came out of prison, I had to tell the probation office that this prisoner had cerebral palsy. "Oops!", they said, "Sorry, we didn't know that he was disabled. That's a different category." I thought that we might now be able to get some help. The ex-prisoner was determined to get the help that people who have been drug addicts need. He was also determined not to come back to Hemel Hempstead, where all his old contacts were. After four hours in the probation office, I had to go off and see another constituent for a couple of hours—someone who was dying—and when I got back on the case, I found that the first thing that they had done when I left was to phone his frail, elderly parents to say, "Come and get him." His parents went to get him from the probation office—luckily they were able to drive there—and they brought him away. Finally, I saw him again that evening established in a house in which it was absolutely clear that he would be dragged back into his drug habit in no time at all.
523 The probation office did not even know the phone number of social services. The local borough council housing department had had a dispute with the man about the rent from the last time that he had lived there, and even though his parents had cancelled his tenancy, it had not been cancelled. The whole business was surrounded by utter incompetence. There was nobody to say, "He's my case. I'll try to see this through." Unless we have a lead agent for this sort of case, the only thing that people like this will be able to do is to go back on the street and start robbing. This guy was a pusher, and very well known in the area, but he wanted to get off the drugs. But in the end, the whole system, with dozens of people being paid very high salaries, could make absolutely nothing happen. I ask the House to consider whether we are ever going to get things right unless we can appoint a lead agent in these cases to take responsibility for people like that.
§ John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)
I shall try to be brief and concise in the one minute that I have in which to speak.
I should like to concentrate on two issues that will be of concern to many of my constituents over the summer recess. One is the mis-selling of travel insurance. An awful lot of people going on holiday this summer will have been the subject of mis-selling. They will come back from their holidays to find that they do not have proper insurance because a number of the major travel agencies will have hoodwinked them into accepting their own insurance without having established pre-existing conditions; that will invalidate their cover. This problem should be covered when the Government consider extending regulation of the insurance industry.
When we return in September, we will be only a few weeks away from the introduction of the new pension credit system. That subject was raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson). It will be in the spotlight. A large number of pensioners live below the Government's poverty line: 22 per cent. of pensioners—2 million in total—still live in poverty. Some £2 billion of pension benefits are unclaimed, and 32 per cent. of pensioners who are eligible do not claim the minimum income guarantee; that includes 11,000 pensioners in my constituency and some 87,000 pensioners in Scotland.
I fear that what will happen when the pension credit comes in will be similar to what happened with the workings of the child tax credit system earlier this year. Two million callers were abandoned when they phoned the helpline. I shall not repeat the arguments that have been put, but the Government have an opportunity to establish a proper infrastructure to deal with this scheme. We have an ageing population, and we must help people who are going into retirement. Frustration has been felt on both sides of the House, because the Government have been too timid and have not properly addressed some of the problems that pensioners will face in the near future, especially with the introduction of the pension credit.
There are a number of issues that we have to deal with, but there is no time to mention them all. I believe that the Government would be well advised to deal with 524 the problem of the mis-selling of travel insurance and the problems that will arise with the introduction of the pension credit.
§ Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
It is a great pleasure to respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. It has been an incredibly wide-ranging debate—so wide-ranging that I should refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests just in case. We have covered the field, on subjects such as Iraq, the pension credit, telecommunications, the House of Lords, Cyprus, Mount Vernon hospital, golf courses, air transport and broadband.
The summer Adjournment debate is important. We can write to Ministers during the recess, but this is the last opportunity to get points on record. It is regrettable that a number of Members have not been able to speak. I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the House that these Adjournment debates should have a time limit on speeches but let the debate run on, because it would not be too painful if we went on for a further half an hour and all missed our trains to our constituencies. At least everyone would have a chance to speak.
I make a plea to the Deputy Leader of the House to pass on to the relevant Ministers the points raised by hon. Members for an answer. I spoke in one of these debates about a social services issue. I waited patiently in my constituency for an answer, but answer came there none. I had to get in touch with the Department myself.
I will not add to the list of issues that have been raised, but I want to make the point that we have not had a chance to discuss in the House the desperate situation of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Payments to a charity in my constituency have been suspended, and I suspect that the same applies to many charities in other constituencies. I hope that the Government will keep their eye on that issue.
We heard excellent contributions, starting with the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). She spoke about road accidents and sleep disorders. Those subjects are not often raised in the House, so it was good to put those points on the record. I respect her proud and consistent record on Iraq. I do not agree with her, but the questions that she asked about the source that the United Kingdom Government used for making the statement about uranium sourced from Niger will not go away. The many contributions on Iraq point to the fact that further debates will be not only welcome, but essential.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) made a wise, comprehensive and passionate speech about Tibet, which is also topical, given the Prime Minister's forthcoming tour. As my hon. Friend said, real negotiations between the Chinese and the Tibetan Government in exile are needed. He made the powerful point that we should not reward violent groups: we should reward non-violence. The Dalai Lama has been the apogee of non-violence.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) made a wide-ranging speech. He talked about transport in Cheshire and Cheshire county council. He made a particular point about special schools. He obviously knows what he is talking about, having worked in that field. He made a powerful point. Those of us who have 525 residential special schools in our constituencies value them, but they are often not valued by the county council. I am not sure that that is political; I think it is to do with the trend towards inclusion in education in all circumstances. I hope that the hon. Gentleman succeeds in his campaign. He mentioned Halton hospital, and I agree that in the national health service small is often beautiful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made what I hope he will not mind my describing as a familiar speech. It was no less powerful for that. He has been vigorous in defending the royal hospital Haslar, which, as he said, is the only defence hospital left in the United Kingdom. He spoke of the difficulties of retaining staff, and pointed out that it was not just a question of pay. It was a question of institutions that people care about, and want to work in. He referred to "super-hospitals", as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). We must ask ourselves whether staff value working in those as much as they value working in smaller institutions that they know and love.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport also mentioned the Daedalus site for asylum seekers at Lee-on-the-Solent. Like others today, he demonstrated the power of pinning Ministers down with parliamentary questions. I agree with him that while any asylum and immigration system will have its disadvantages, one advantage of a quota system with more offshore processing is that it would rid us of the problem of where to site asylum centres.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) was one of many speakers who had apparently been unable to catch Mr. Speaker's eye during debates on Iraq. Many of us were in the same position, yet we were deluged with letters, advice and e-mails from constituents. We wanted to show that we had listened before reaching our own judgments. I supported the hon. Lady's judgment: she was sceptical but supportive, deploring war but recognising that it was sometimes essential, praising the United Nations route but recognising that the French veto made the war inevitable. I thought her speech powerful. She lost me when she moved on to the European constitution and not having a referendum, but found me again when she dealt with regional government. Two out of three is not bad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood talked about the cancer and burns unit at Mount Vernon hospital in Northwood. He has been a doughty fighter for that, as well as for Harefield hospital. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport, he pointed out that institutions matter as well as bricks and mortar. It is dreadful when "progress" means the closing of much-loved hospitals.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) spoke about Iraq, and about pensioners. I think we all support what he said about Iraq—"They want their country back"—and the sooner we can deliver that, the better it will be for stability in the region. On the pension credit, he asked for no repeat of the debacle over tax credits. I am sure that we all say, "Hear, hear" to that.
526 The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), in what sounded like a winding up of the early part of the debate, rightly said that all speeches about Iraq were very sincere. He told us his own tale about House of Lords reform, describing the long trail of questions that he had asked the Prime Minister, which had led him to conclude that the Prime Minister does not always answer the question. Even after only two and a half years in this place, I must say that my reaction was "Wow!" The hon. Gentleman is sincere about the House of Lords, however. He said that the larger number had voted for the elected options, which is true if we assume that 332 Members voted for them. I hope that he, and the rest of us, will be persistent, and that the Government will try to find a proper solution.
The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) made a knowledgeable speech about Cyprus. He reminded us of the events that took place 29 years ago, and of the slow progress that has been made towards a settlement. He took a slightly stronger line against Turkey than some of us would want to—many of us feel that Turkey wants to be a European democracy rather than an Islamic state, and that we should be more welcoming—but I respect what he said about Cyprus and the importance of a settlement there.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) produced a rich menu of issues, including the declaration of interests that parish councillors have had to sign. Many Members will have received representations about that. I hope that the Government will listen to those who say that they should try to lighten parish councillors' load and celebrate what they do.
Like others, my hon. Friend mentioned schools funding. He said that 52 schools in his constituency were in deficit. I do not think we have heard the last of that. It is a pity that the Government are not going to relent, but we hope that things will be better in future years. He also asked about the report on the international year of the mountain, 2002, which we are awaiting. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will give us a commitment on that.
Appropriately enough on the first day of the Open, the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) spoke about golf courses and the great planning pressures in the south-east and Essex. I am sure that some of us thought how nice it would be to be at the Open, rather than here, and I gather that Justin Rose is doing very well. Those of us with seats in the south-east absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman's point.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) made a very controversial remark when he said that his is the most beautiful constituency in the country. I was going to disagree, as the Cotswolds and west Oxfordshire are far more beautiful, but then I remembered that I am going on holiday to Jura, which I believe is in his constituency. Perhaps we can meet at the top of a pap and discuss this. He also spoke about transport and regional air services, which are desperately needed. I hope that he will be listened to. All of us with rural constituencies will agree with his point about broadband, and will want some of the non-BT, satellite options to be pursued. I hope that the Government listen to that point as well.
527 My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (M r. Amess), who is a doughty fighter for his constituency, raised a range of issues to do with crime. I picked up on the point about his secondary schools having a £400,000 shortfall. That is a huge deficit and I ask the Government to take on this issue.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) made a very knowledgeable speech about genetically modified crops and the danger of super-weeds. I listened to her with great interest—indeed, the great debate on GM has even reached "The Archers". When the House returns, we really must address her point about having a debate on this issue in government time.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Tom Cox) made a very knowledgeable speech about Pakistan. He mentioned what a good friend to this country President Musharraf has been and that we must press for Pakistan's re-entry into the Commonwealth. I am sure that that message was received by Government Front Benchers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) spoke about bad odours in south Essex—I hope that I heard him right—and the problems with Pitsea tip. He mentioned buck-passing, and as we all know from our constituency experience in dealing with the Environment Agency, one can often be passed from pillar to post. I hope that the Government will listen to that point.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) discussed greyhound racing and made the important point that a welfare fund for dogs should perhaps be established. I am slightly more sceptical about the concept of licensing and registration for all puppies. If we go back to having dog and cat licences, I wonder where it will end. Soon, we will be licensing hamsters. However, his was a well-thought-through speech on an important subject.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) is an expert on immigration rules and, particularly for those of us who do not have large immigrant populations in our constituencies, it is always good to listen and learn from her. She discussed changing the age that one needs to reach before becoming a sponsor, and ensuring that a sponsor has to be a citizen. Those were positive and constructive contributions to this important subject, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass them on to the Home Office, to see whether they can be looked at in detail.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter)—the man who asked the Prime Minister whether he had a philosophy—now seems to have adopted that philosophy. He referred to multi-agency working, and it is only a matter of time before he starts talking about roll-out, joined-up government and pilots. If he is not careful, he will start talking about "imagineering". He clearly needs a holiday to recover his old Labour credentials, but he makes an important point. On leaving prison, people can fall between the gaps. In the worst cases involving heroin addicts, after drying out in prison, their first fix on coming out is often their last. They are not picked up by the probation service or the various agencies. That is a powerful point.
528 The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) was cut off rather cruelly, but his point about the mis-selling of travel insurance was well made and certainly needs to be looked at.
I end with my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), who spoke about his time at the Royal Hospital Haslar, and about nanotechnology. He is probably one of few in this House who actually understands what nanotechnology is, rather than believing, as Prince Charles does, that it is grey goo. My hon. Friend paid tribute to community health councils and the work that they have done, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will pay tribute to their own CHCs, regardless of how they voted on that issue; I certainly pay tribute to mine. He posed one of the great questions that we face. An enormous amount of public money is being spent on public services such as the NHS, and the huge test for the Government—in a way, it is a huge experiment—is whether that will lead to more activity. His figures suggest that so far activity has remained relatively flat. The big test for this Government will be whether that giant tax-and-spend experiment will work. We shall have to wait and see.
On that note, I wish the House and its members of staff a happy recess, and I look forward to the reply of the Deputy Leader of the House.
§ The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)
I start by echoing the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) in saying what an excellent debate this has been. It has been wide ranging, with some 22 contributions from Back Benchers on both sides of the House. The range of subjects has been frankly mind-boggling. We have been to a golf course in the Brain valley that has more than 18 holes. I do not know what they propose to call the bar at that course. Having played 31 holes, I suppose one needs a drink. We have been to hospitals in various parts of the country, and we have been up mountains for the year of the mountain.
We have had foreign trips, surpassing even those that hon. Members will take in the next eight weeks. We have been to Tibet and Pakistan, stopping for a while in Iraq. We have been to Cyprus via Egypt, coming back to the more familiar territory of parish councils in Bedfordshire. I will come back to those later.
We have had bad odours in Essex. Out of context, that would look bad for the hon. Member for Castle Point (Mr. Spink), but we understand what he means. We have had fires at Yarl's Wood, abandoned greyhounds and a wide range of topics that I shall try to answer. In response to the hon. Member for Witney, I undertake to ensure that if I cannot answer any questions, we will write to the relevant Secretaries of State. I can inform the House that thanks to the excellent work of the officials in the Office of the Leader of the House, I have been passed notes in answer to points made in the previous recess debate so that we can tie up some loose ends.
Reference has been made to extending these debates, as we now have the cut-off at 6 o'clock. Perhaps the House would like to consider that. If these debates were open-ended, I suspect that we would be here until 8 September, given the ability of some hon. Members to keep going. This debate is important and obviously we take these matters seriously.
529 My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) raised two diverse issue, sleeping disorders and road safety, and her well-known and passionately held views on Iraq. The Government have every intention of maintaining the momentum of the current publicity campaign to promote awareness of driver sleepiness. The campaign started in August 2000 and we are spending just over £1 million annually on it. We continue to look at ways in which we can get the message across. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that treatment available on the NHS of continuous positive airway pressure is often effective in eliminating the disorder. It is important that that is available. I shall come back to the subject of Iraq because several hon. Members mentioned it.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) raised the issue of Tibet and I am sure that he has support on both sides of the House, particularly with regard to the cases he raised, such as the horrific execution of Lobsang Dhondup in Tibet. The Government continually raise the issue of human rights in Tibet with the Chinese Government, most recently on 25 June. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Prime Minister will be visiting Japan.[Interruption.] I apologise. The Prime Minister is going to so many places it is difficult to keep up. He is going to China to raise the issue. He is going to Japan as well, but he will not be raising the issue of human rights in Tibet. Maybe he will; he works many wonders, our Prime Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) spoke passionately about constituency concerns. First, he mentioned the proposed reduction of services at Hartford station—an important link to the mainline and London. I understand that the reason for the change is that that bit of the line is a pinch point, which causes congestion. Proposals are being examined to establish whether the higher performance trains now available—with better acceleration and better braking—will make possible an increased number of calls at the station.
Secondly, my hon. Friend mentioned Cloughwood school in his constituency. He has close personal knowledge of, and strongly supports, the school, and the school bus services are obviously important. Those are matters for the Cheshire county council, and my hon. Friend is right to raise them in the debate.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend referred to the Halton hospital. I understand that the strategic health authority supports my hon. Friend's views, and I know that he will campaign vigorously on that matter. I will certainly draw his views to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
As he does on so many occasions, the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the issue of the medical services in the armed forces. I believe that he is a former member of the Royal Air Force and he obviously holds strong views on that matter. He is familiar with the difficulty of reconfiguring the medical defence services. I will certainly chase up the points that he made, particularly in respect of his correspondence with the Minister, and I shall again draw his point of view to the Secretary of State's attention.
530 The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Daedalus site, and I understand that an announcement will shortly be made. The responsible Home Office Minister visited the site on 15 May this year, following the announcement in February, and I understand that consideration is currently being given to it. We await an announcement on that important matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) talked about Iraq and referendums. If it was two out of three for the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), it must be one out of three for me on this occasion—no, in the light of her views on Iraq, it is two out of three in reality. That shows that we do not always oppose what the Opposition say, simply because the Opposition say it.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend's views on the European Union constitution. The Government's position is well known—that the arguments in favour of a referendum on that matter are bogus. The EU Convention is the bringing together of treaties that have been determined in the past. It is interesting to read the views expressed in the press—particularly the pro-federalist press—on the continent, and discover how strongly the constitution is opposed because it is not seen as a federalist document. It is also notable how much the British Government are praised for the skilful negotiation of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
I have to part company with my hon. Friend on the issue of a referendum for a north-west regional assembly. The Government consulted on the matter and interests were expressed, but we will campaign for a yes vote in the referendum. I do not accept the argument that the regional assembly is a duplication and another tier of bureaucracy. I regard it as another tier of democracy, which devolves bureaucracy from Whitehall closer to the regions. The helpline advice to a constituent in Argyll and Bute to travel 140 miles to the local tax office is a strong argument for regional devolution. The distances in our regions may not be that great, but government closer to the people is better government. I hope that the referendum will result in a positive outcome. My hon. Friend holds strong views on that and divisions will exist within parties and across party lines.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised some important points about Mount Vernon and Harefield hospitals, and I know that Members from neighbouring constituencies have also raised those serious issues. There are real concerns about them, but the difficulty that the health authorities have is balancing any damage that change inevitably causes with the future investment in, and development of, services at the other sites involved. The hon. Gentleman made his points clinically, if I may put it like that, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is made aware of those views.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) raised several issues. He talked about his views on Iraq, and I am sure that all hon. Members will respect them. His constituents will, I am sure, learn of his contribution today and will also respect him for those strongly held views, which I happen to share. However, I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that Members on all sides of that argument hold their views sincerely.
531 My hon. Friend mentioned the situation of pensioners, and he also referred to the introduction in October of the pension credit. The Government's record on increasing the money paid to pensioners—including the minimum income guarantee and the pension credit, when it is introduced—is greatly welcomed by all pensioners. Hon. Members are right to raise concerns about implementation of the system, and whether it will be simple enough for pensioners to understand, but the Government have listened carefully to those points to ensure a smooth implementation of what will prove to be a step change in provision for pensioners.
My hon. Friend raised other issues. He is a former telecoms engineer and has much knowledge of the issues relating to the telecoms industry. I have a follow-up document in front of me from the previous time my hon. Friend raised those issues, and I shall draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and ensure that my hon. Friend gets an answer. He also mentioned shipbuilding and the importance to his constituents of the aircraft carrier contract, and Ministers from the Ministry of Defence are well aware of his views on that. He also mentioned the Communications Bill, which I have covered.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall was perhaps called a little earlier than he had hoped, but he made a wide-ranging contribution. He is right to say that the House of Commons could not come to a consensus on the issue of the House of Lords. While all hon. Members can say what the House was against, the Leader of the House and the Government have to determine what the House voted for. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in the effort to abolish the remaining hereditary peers, which is an improvement that we outlined in our manifesto. We want to introduce more independent appointments in the House of Lords to make it more democratic and representative, and I hope that he will support that as progress. It may not go as far as he would like to go, but it is in the right direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) raised the issue of Cyprus. He is aware of the Government's policy on the matter and I know that he supports it. I thank him for his work on that issue. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) raised the issue of parish councils and the code of conduct and I will take his points up with the Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have seen strong work from parish councils and we support them. On the point about the year of the mountain, I have a response from the Government and I will ensure that it is transmitted to the hon. Gentleman.
Several other hon. Members raised many other issues and I will ensure that they receive responses to the points that they made and the questions that they asked. It has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. The summer Adjournment comes at a time when our economy is stronger than it has ever been, with record low levels of unemployment, inflation and interest. The Government are in strong heart and they are moving forward with their investment and reform agenda. As Members deliberate over the shorter summer break this year, they will realise that this bumpy month was, in fact, a good time for the Government.
§ It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put