I wish to raise the issue of Cyprus. As hon. Members know, Cyprus is often discussed in the House, and rightly so. I declare an interest at the outset. I chair the all-party Cyprus group, to which members of all the major political parties belong.
Britain is one of the guarantor powers for the island of Cyprus, along with Greece and Turkey. Following the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 by the Turkish military forces, Cyprus has remained a divided country. The south of the country is under the control of the democratically elected Government of the Republic of Cyprus; the north of the island, with the support of the Turkish army, has now become the supposedly independent state of northern Cyprus. I say "supposedly independent state" because, after many years, that state is recognised only by Turkey. It is not recognised by the United Nations, the European Union or the Council of Europe, and it is most certainly not recognised by the Government of the United Kingdom.
Since the events of 1974, many attempts have been made to find a solution that would safeguard the interests and security of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There are without doubt Turkish Cypriots who want a settlement. They see that, in the years since 1974, nothing has taken place that has led to any meaningful development in the economy or in the day-to-day lives of the people who live in northern Cyprus.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), visited Cyprus last month. He sent me a letter following that visit, in which he told me of the people whom he had met. What he did not say and what I have not seen in any official statement is what discussions he had with the leading politicians in the (north and south of the island. That is one of the reasons why I have sought a debate in the House this afternoon.
Since 1974, repeated attempts have been made to find a settlement. Many organisations, countries and politicians have been involved in discussions. There have been many opportunities to obtain a settlement. The real issue for many hon. Members has been and still is Mr. Denktash, who has only one objective—recognition of the state that he has created in northern Cyprus.
Over the years, the United Nations has passed many major resolutions on Cyprus. All have clearly set out the type of settlement that the United Nations wishes to see in place to protect Greek and Turkish Cypriots, to rebuild the economy of the north, and to bring meaningful peace and prosperity to the whole of the island. After all the attempts that have been made, one has to ask why it has not been possible to reach a settlement. I suggest that one can sum up the reason in a few words: Mr. Denktash and his friends and supporters in Turkey are the reason why there has not been the progress that one would have liked.
One could give many examples of the promises and the actions of Mr. Denktash that have caused the despair that now prevails in Cyprus. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the United Nations proximity talks. Many of us thought that they could be the breakthrough to meaningful discussions on the future of Cyprus. No one has done more in recent years than President Clerides of Cyprus to show a willingness to involve Turkish Cypriots in discussions and to show how those in northern Cyprus can be part of the discussion of the future of Cyprus—by which I mean all aspects of its future.
Cyprus has applied for membership of the European Union. President Clerides has repeatedly called on Mr. Denktash to join him in the talks on Cyprus' application, but Mr. Denktash has always refused to take part. I ask the Minister to outline the present position regarding the proximity talks. Are they still on? Do they still have any real meaning? What is the British Government's position on those talks?
I have already spoken of Turkey's role in northern Cyprus. The statements that Turkish politicians make on northern Cyprus and their visits to it are hardly the actions of politicians who believe that northern Cyprus has nothing whatever to do with Turkey and is solely the responsibility of Mr. Denktash. I do not think that anyone anywhere in the world believes that. I make those comments because everyone in the House knows that Turkey's great wish is to join the European Union. If it really wants that, does it have no role to play in ensuring that the proximity talks take place and real progress is made in them?
I have already talked of the so-called state of northern Cyprus and the views and demands of Mr. Denktash that his state be recognised before he will enter into any real discussion on the future of Cyprus. As he knows, because he has been told repeatedly, that recognition will not take place. There will be no recognition of the state that he created.
Cyprus is important to Britain because both countries are members of the Commonwealth. After almost 27 years of occupation and countless talks and discussions, what real progress has been made towards a meaningful settlement? One has only to read the statements and views of the United Nations on why there has been no development that could lead to a settlement. In a word, the reason is Mr. Denktash. He is the reason why there has been no progress. What is the United Kingdom's position on the proximity talks? I accept that we support them, but are we doing enough to ensure that they are on the road to meaningful discussions? What is the EU doing? What is the United States of America doing?
Richard Holbrooke, former US permanent representative at the United Nations under the Clinton Administration, said in a television interview on 1 March this year:
The primary blockage at this point lies with the leadership in Northern Cyprus.
Could anything be clearer? Could there be a greater indictment by a senior world politician of Mr. Denktash than that statement?
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, will clearly convey to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the dismay of many Members of Parliament, and the need both for much greater effort to restart the talks and for Mr. Denktash, and especially Turkey, fully to understand the role that they must play in seeking meaningful progress for the benefit of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
I am grateful to be called in the Easter recess Adjournment debate. I wish to raise three issues of concern to my constituents and then to comment on foot and mouth disease.
The first issue relates to crime and police manpower in the borough of Barnet. We all know that, for decades, until the beginning of the 1990s, the number of recorded crimes soared. From about 1992, there was a gentle reduction—perhaps the adjective is not appropriate—in the Metropolitan police area until about two or three years ago, when there was suddenly a significant upswing of 8.7 per cent. in recorded crimes. That coincided—I am sure it was not coincidental—with quite a significant fall in the number of police.
The point to be made about police manpower in the Metropolitan area is that it is not only a question of putting in place policies and incentives to recruit people to the force. It is particularly necessary to try to keep them, because there is a well above average number of early retirements, retirements or transfers to other police forces.
Barnet was dealt with disproportionately badly for two or three years, although I recognise that that changed very recently. Five years or so ago, manpower stood at over 700 officers. The difficulty is that, since 1997—I think that it was in 1998 or 1999—that part of Hertsmere has, rightly, been removed from the Metropolitan area; the Metropolitan police area is now within the confines of the Greater London area. However, I cannot believe that 150 or so officers should have been transferred from my borough to Borehamwood. The total fell about 18 months ago to only 479 police officers, serving a borough with a population of 320,000. The minimum shift strength in the borough was 32, but only 22 were available. Even the Labour/Liberal Democrat council was moved to condemn the Government for not providing the resources and to express concern about the increase in crime.
We now know that there is to be an increase—we hope to get about 64 of the 1,050 extra police that have been promised for the Metropolitan police area. Who is providing the extra 1,050? Is it the Government, or is it Mayor Ken Livingstone? What I do know is that, in order to provide the extra 64 officers in Barnet, this year, the Greater London Authority precept on council tax payers has risen by no less than 22 per cent.
The second issue that I wish to raise concerns the NHS in the borough. I have never had so many complaints not only about waiting list times, but about waiting to get on waiting lists, postponed operations, and facilities in the local hospital. Despite the fact that phase 1A of Barnet general hospital's redevelopment was completed in April 1997—we are looking forward to the completion of phase 1B, hopefully in a year's time—the facilities in many respects still leave much to be desired. I hope that the Government will deal with that problem.
It is not just a question of increasing resources, which have certainly increased in the past four years, as they did in the previous 18 years. It is almost incredible that, in 1979, expenditure on the NHS throughout the United Kingdom was only £8 billion. It had risen to £42 billion 18 years later, in 1997, but to listen to the criticisms levelled at it before 1997, one would not have known that. I concede the point to Labour Members: they have increased the resources for the NHS, but there are still valid criticisms to be made, and shortages and unfairnesses to be tackled.
The third issue is the appalling state of the London underground. My constituency, unfortunately in this respect, nestles at the end of the Northern and Piccadilly lines. Again, I have never had so many complaints about the service before. I believe that my constituents are pragmatic people. They do not much care who runs the London underground or, indeed, other public services. What they want is a reliable and efficient service at a reasonable cost and to be able to travel in reasonable comfort. Since the Government came to power, despite their promises, not a penny's extra private investment—or any private investment—has gone into the London underground. I do not want to take sides between the Government on the one hand and Mayor Livingstone and Bob Kiley on the other, but I wish the Government would get their act together and get on with devising a structure that will lead to the necessary investment going into our tube system.
I finish with a comment on the dreadful foot and mouth disease. That issue is of concern in our towns, as it is in our countryside. We in Chipping Barnet, in the very north of London—we do not nestle in the Cotswolds—are perhaps well placed because we are where the metropolis meets the countryside. London Members in particular will know that there are thousands of acres of green belt within the Greater London area and that, on many of them, there are farms with livestock.
The point that is repeatedly driven home to me and to my constituents is that town and countryside are interdependent. That very interdependence strengthens the fabric and unity of our nation. I hope that the Government will respect and recognise that, as they seek to tackle this dreadful disease which is affecting an industry that was already suffering very badly.
I do not know any more than anyone else whether this will be the last recess Adjournment debate before the general election, but, to take as a working hypothesis that the summer recess Adjournment debate will come after the general election, it is not a bad time to do a little stocktake on the past four years. I want to begin by doing a stocktake in my constituency.
My desire to do so was triggered by my visit last Friday to a sure start scheme in Overdale in my constituency—a scheme with which I was obviously already familiar. We are talking not about words or about speeches: we are talking about real bricks and mortar on the ground, and the provision of real facilities. To see in Overdale a brand new family centre, to see people employed there in a brand new nursery, with things such as toy libraries, to see the home-visiting facility for families who need the support, to have met the 100th mother who had, if you like, voted with her feet to join the scheme—none of these things is compulsory; people will benefit from them only if they want to do so—was a source of great pride to me: pride in both the Government and the Labour-controlled local authority.
I was particularly proud because that scheme is not a one-off, out-of-the-blue scheme. It is consistent with a timeless principle: we should try to give all our children an equal chance. Although I am particularly proud of that achievement, there are many others. I should like to mention a couple of them.
Three or four weeks ago, at the Princess Royal hospital, we opened a brand new maternity unit. That national health service unit can bear comparison with maternity units anywhere else in the public sector or in the private sector in the United Kingdom and probably anywhere abroad. It has terrific facilities, including proper facilities for visiting children. Any Government, and certainly any constituency Member of Parliament, would be proud of that unit. There has also been a £650,000 refurbishment of the Princess Royal hospital's accident and emergency unit.
Those are real facilities and real achievements, not just politicians' words. Those improvements have been made not because someone in a focus group thought that they would be a good idea, but because they are consistent with the Labour party's timeless principle that health care should be available free at the point of need and on the basis of need, not the ability to pay.
I could cite many other examples of what has been achieved in the past four years in Telford. There has, for example, been a 73 per cent. reduction in youth unemployment in Telford. Unlike four years ago—bar one or two schools which have specific, local and good reasons why the objective could not be achieved—almost all infant classes now have fewer than 30 pupils. That is a great source of pride.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 9,500 pensioners in Telford are benefiting from the winter fuel payment, and 3,800 pensioners are benefiting from the free television licence. Those are both sources of pride. However, in terms of long-held views, perhaps the most important statistic of all—I do not have constituency figures, but I have figures for the west midlands—is the fact that an estimated 150,000 low-paid workers in the region will benefit from the proposed minimum wage increase.
Those are all real achievements. As the general election approaches, however, I have been puzzled by our opponents' reaction to them. Those achievements—in the health service, child care facilities and reduced unemployment—are not affecting only my constituency. They are not a unique moonbeam shining only on Telford but are affecting every constituency in Britain. What do our opponents say about those national developments? Do they say that they are opposed to them morally and on principle? I very much doubt that they could say that.
Presumably our opponents' only other line of defence to our achievements is to say, "All that would have happened anyway. They are part of an inexorable law of nature." However, they cannot say that either. I remind Conservative Members that they passionately opposed the national minimum wage on grounds of principle and thought that it was fundamentally wrong. They even presented what they thought was, a coherent and principled argument against it. However, the national minimum wage was not achieved by accident.
Conservative Members reacted in precisely the same manner to the new deal and to decreasing youth unemployment. I leave it to them to decide, when the general election comes, on their own strategy for explaining those improvements in their own constituencies—[Interruption.]
Perhaps the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) does not want to talk about the improvements in his constituency, and I do not blame him for that. However, Labour Members' strategy is to say that those improvements have not simply happened—as some of our opponents like to say when they have nothing better to say—because of opinion polls or focus groups. The fundamental improvements in our health service are the result of the timeless principles on which the Labour party was founded and are building on the greatest achievement of any peacetime Government in the past century—the establishment of the national health service, in 1948, in the teeth of opposition from the Tories.
In the previous Parliament, in 1998, it was a matter of enormous pride to go to Lichfield cathedral to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that great achievement by a Labour Government—the establishment of the national health service. I do not know how many cathedrals have celebrated the 50th anniversary of a Tory Government's achievement, but so far I have not been invited to such an event. Nye Bevan would have been proud of the current modernisation of the national health service.
The national minimum wage also was not the consequence of the remarks of a focus group or the results of an opinion poll but was consistent with the timeless principles of the Labour party. I make no apology for mentioning that a national minimum wage was advocated by Keir Hardie. Indeed, last year was the centenary of the establishment of the Labour party. Who among the 129 delegates who were present—with no money and no resources—at the founding meeting of the Labour party, on 27 February 1900, would have believed that, in 24 years, Labour would be in government and that, at the turn of the century, it would form a Government with a majority that was greater than the total number of founding delegates?
As we set the ground rules and prepare the territory for the general election, I fervently hope that we compare not only Labour's record after four years in office with that of the previous Tory Government after their 18 years in office, but the values that inspire the two parties, how well they have stood the test of time and how well they have served their constituents. If the judgment is made on that basis, I have no doubt whatever about the outcome.
The unfolding tragedy of the foot and mouth crisis clarifies a number of issues. The first is that it is abundantly clear that Ministers cannot be blamed for the outbreak of foot and mouth. In due course, if the Minister for the Environment is right, there will be a public inquiry into the outbreak. Indeed there should be a public inquiry; after such an event, we have to discover the lessons that can be learned. It is tempting to say—although I shall try to keep my remarks fairly narrow—that if Ministers had considered earlier the experience of the 1967 outbreak, they might have been able to avoid some of the mistakes that they have made.
I would be the first to say that I do not envy Ministers waking up one fine morning to discover that the foot and mouth crisis was breaking across the country. Those of us who have been in government, and those of my hon. Friends who aspire to it, realise that that was an appalling thing for Ministers to have to confront. I say that to set the scene. It would be quite unfair to use the foot and mouth outbreak to attack the Government. There are, after all, many other good reasons for attacking the Government.
In any crisis, however, Ministers have to remain accountable and be prepared to come to the House to answer the questions put to them. When an urgent situation arises in a constituency, Ministers have to be prepared to respond to it instantly. Ministers in this Government, like those in the previous Government, have been prepared to respond to hon. Members who write to them genuinely saying that they have a desperately urgent constituency matter that requires an urgent ministerial response.
The trouble is that that has not always happened in this crisis. One has had to go to the most extraordinary lengths to persuade Ministers to perform their basic function, which is to be accountable to the House and to answer legitimate questions put to them by hon. Members. Thus it was that, on 30 March, I discovered that a landfill site in my constituency would receive carcases from an infected area. One might have thought that I discovered that fact from a letter from a Minister, a telephone call from an official or from the National Farmers Union, but that is not how I learned of it. I discovered the fact from a media contact who said, "You are the local MP. You will obviously be able to tell us why the Government have decided to move carcases from an infected area into that uninfected area."
As that happened 10 days ago, before my innocence had not been entirely destroyed, I decided to try to contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. However, that did not work. Instead, I spoke to the media, the Environment Agency and to similar organisations. Eventually, during the course of the day, I began to piece together what might be happening.
I did not feel that the fact that I had been prepared to start making telephone calls, and to try to put together a picture of what was happening, constituted a sufficient response: I needed to tell my constituents what was going on. By the end of the day I had sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, telling him what I understood from my inquiries to be the position. What I understood was that carcases would be brought in from an infected area, but that they would be carcases that had resulted from the cull welfare scheme—in other words, carcases that were not infected.
Even that was bad enough, however. It would still mean that traffic was being promoted between an infected and an uninfected area. Although the carcases themselves had resulted from the welfare scheme, the situation was unacceptable. I made that point in an e-mail that I sent to the Minister of Agriculture on the same day, but I heard nothing. I heard nothing on the Saturday, or on the Sunday. On the Monday, I had still heard nothing.
I told the Ministry that if I had not received a response by Question Time on Monday, I would have to raise the matter on the Floor of the House. I think the record will show that, of the devices I am prepared to use in the House, the arguably bogus point of order is not one; but it must be said that on the Monday, the Tuesday and the Wednesday I had to make three points of order which I might describe as being of arguable validity, and which those who are less charitable might term thoroughly bogus. They consisted of my asking the occupants of the Chair whether they had had any indication that the Minister of Agriculture wanted to come to the House and confirm what was going on.
Finally, on the Wednesday, I received a letter from the Minister of State that purported to answer my points. I think that the letter was sent only because I was continuing to raise points of order. The letter—from which I will quote one paragraph—is chilling.
It is difficult for me—an aficionado of "Yes Minister", and one who has done some of this sort of stuff in the distant past—to decide whether to admire the subtlety of refusing to give the precise assurances that were requested, or to condemn the sheer brazenness of the assumption that anyone could be fooled for a moment. Following my request that I should be told whether it was true that the carcases would simply be those resulting from the cull welfare scheme, I was treated to this reply. I shall emphasise certain words, because the emphasis that they should receive would not otherwise be apparent.
The Minister of State told me:
The use of landfill is principally for the disposal of sheep and pigs from the livestock welfare disposal scheme of which there are over 1 million animals in the pipeline. Pigs and sheep from neighbouring farms where animals may have been exposed to the virus but not showing visible signs of disease may also be deposited. We are making the very best endeavours to ensure that as far as possible stock from protection zones go to landfill in protection zones. But we cannot guarantee in this extremely serious situation that this will always happen. Also with the recent SEAC decision, where landfill operators are content we will also bury disease free or at risk cattle less than five years of age.
That lack of assurance was completely at variance with everything that I had been able to discover locally. It also meant that when I attended a meeting convened specially by Teignbridge district council at the weekend—because the council wanted to find out what was happening—far from my being able to provide reassurance, I was unable to do anything of the kind.
As a result of that meeting, I sent a detailed message to the Minister of State pointing out that the assurances given flatly contradicted some of what MAFF officials were saying locally—not in letters to me, as the Member of Parliament, but in a circular letter to the chief executives of the various local authorities. I had never heard of a protection zone, and neither had the National Farmers Union.
Let me give an example. MAFF officials have said certain things in correspondence; meanwhile, we are told:
The objective of the authorities responsible for the disposal arrangements is to ensure that all carcases are transported for disposal (a) within infected areas or (b) within non infected areas, but not from one area to another.
Again, what was implied by MAFF officials and what was said by the Minister were completely at variance.
By that stage, my confidence that I would receive a response from Ministers had disappeared. In a detailed letter that I sent to the Minister of State after the meeting on Friday, I wrote that I saw only one remaining opportunity to find out from Ministers what was going on. I told the Minister that she must ask a number of specific questions, and added that if she did not ask them I would raise them on the Adjournment. The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office is present. On such an occasion, his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would normally say, "That is extremely interesting. It has nothing to do with me, but it is super to see you. I will refer your comments." It is a time-honoured formula, as is perfectly understandable.
I made it clear to the Minister of State that I was going to send a copy of my letter to the Leader of the House, containing specific questions, and that I would expect those questions to be answered today. I said, possibly more in hope than in expectation, that she might be more successful in getting replies out of her right hon. Friend than I had been.
These are the questions that I want the Parliamentary Secretary to answer today, as he is present. I want to know whether the order allowing the burial of cattle at Fosterville will be rescinded forthwith. I want to know whether the site at Deep Moor will be used for any subsequent disposals that would otherwise have been destined for Fosterville. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to make it clear that if a Fosterville site continues to be used—I strongly disapprove of that in any event—it should be used only for sheep and pigs in the livestock welfare disposal scheme, and that those animals should not have been exposed to any possibility of coming into contact with the virus. Finally, I want an assurance that in no circumstances will cattle be deposited at Fosterville.
Those are questions of which the Parliamentary Secretary, through his colleague, has had specific notice, and I think that they need to be answered today. It is bizarre that we should have to expect a Minister with no departmental responsibility to measure up to what should be expected of Her Majesty's Government; but if we do not receive answers to those questions today, the people of the west country will form their own impression of what this Government are really all about.
I want to raise an important matter involving what I believe was a serious miscarriage of justice affecting two of my constituents, Gareth Perrett and Richard Perrett. Both are former policemen. Gareth Perrett was an inspector in Halifax with 29 years' service; his son Richard served in the Odsal division in Bradford for several years. Both had unblemished records.
As MP for Halifax, for many years I have worked closely with Inspector Gareth Perrett. I know him well, and have always found him to be an excellent police officer, completely on top of his brief and well liked and respected in the community.
On 7 February 1998, an alleged incident occurred on a flight from Orlando to Manchester. The two Perretts and a friend were reported by two passengers for disorder: they claimed that the men had had too much to drink, and were noisy. On arrival at Manchester, the three men were met by the police. They were told that a complaint had been made. They were not arrested, and they were not told what the complaint had been: they were allowed to collect their car and drive home to Halifax.
As a senior officer, Gareth Perrett felt that there had been a misinterpretation, or a misunderstanding, of the men's behaviour. He sent a letter to the senior officer at Manchester airport. He thought that he should at least have been provided with a list of passengers, which would have enabled him to obtain evidence that neither he nor the other two men had done anything wrong. The Manchester police disregarded the letter, and the Crown Prosecution Service did not follow up its suggestions.
At that stage, both Inspector Perrett and his son still had no idea what the complaint against them was. Only when they read a report in the local press did they find that they had been accused of upsetting two passengers. Three months after the incident, a summons was served. The men were accused of being drunk on an aircraft, and using abusive or insulting words in the hearing or sight of a person which might cause harassment, alarm or distress.
On 12 June, my constituents pleaded not guilty to both charges. The second charge was withdrawn, which left them with the charge of being drunk on an aircraft. They have always denied that. The police produced no video evidence, and after they had met them from the plane they had allowed them to drive home. That is difficult to understand.
Gareth Perrett, or Richard, sought evidence from other passengers, but were met by a wall of opposition from Britannia Airways. The investigating police force was not helpful either. My constituents therefore set about finding passengers, and managed to locate a family who had been sitting close to them on the aircraft. That family are completely teetotal—as they made a point of saying in court; they gave evidence that the three men were
only a bit merry and not causing the problems suggested.
The family were the main witnesses and the case collapsed. The two men were declared not guilty and left the court without a stain on their character, although the judge did remark that there might have been some juvenile behaviour.
The two men returned to work. However, their problems were far from over; three months later, they were told to appear at a disciplinary hearing before the new chief constable, who—ignoring both the verdict of the court and the testimony of witnesses who had spoken in their favour—asked both men to resign. Later, at an appeal, a tribunal upheld the chief constable's decision but took note only of his conclusions; the independent evidence was not even discussed.
I took up the case with the Home Office for three main reasons. I am not convinced that the case of the Perretts was fairly investigated either by the Greater Manchester police or the West Yorkshire police. I do not believe that a court's not guilty verdict should have been overturned by a chief constable who had taken more notice of exaggerated press reports. I do not believe that two excellent police officers should have lost their jobs; they are lost to the service, at a period when we are desperately short of good, experienced officers.
The Home Secretary has turned down their appeal; he says that he took into account the response of the chief constable and the recommendations of the tribunal. I am very disappointed that he has done so. I am the last person in the world to condone disruptive or drunken behaviour on an aircraft, but after going into the case in great detail—listening to the local community and reading the proceedings thoroughly—I feel that an injustice has been perpetrated.
Like the court, I do not believe that a serious offence took place. I do not believe that people should be tried twice. I want the Home Office to take another look at the case. Recently, a senior reinstated police officer pleaded guilty to far more serious offences; we should remember that the Perretts were proved not guilty.
The emotional cost to the family has been tremendous. They are a local family who are well known and well respected. The two men have been under great stress; they have lost income and have experienced personal hurt. I did not feel that the House should adjourn without me drawing attention to this case—I shall certainly pursue it.
Although politics can be an unpredictable science, I suspect that this may be my last speech in the Chamber—although I continue to have the privilege of representing Orkney in the Scottish Parliament. There have been several highlights during my 18 years as a Member of Parliament, but the fact that I was a Member of the Parliament that delivered a Scottish Parliament—for which my party had campaigned for more than a century—and that I had the opportunity to play a part in that process brings me considerable pleasure.
One consequence of the Scottish Parliament and of legislation passed in this place is that the Orkney and Shetland constituency has been split in two, so when the general election is called I shall cease to have a representative link with Shetland. That is why I want to focus on an important issue in Shetland—one of the major incidents that occurred during my time as a Member of Parliament.
On 5 January 1993, the oil tanker Braer went aground at Garths Ness on the southern tip of Shetland, spilling its cargo of 84,000 tonnes of oil. Regrettably, more than eight years on, there is still unfinished business. I shall devote my remarks especially to the outstanding claims of people who believe that their property was damaged as a result of the spillage.
I declare a personal interest. I have a small cottage about a mile from where the tanker went aground; subsequently, it was noted that the felt roof was warped. The roof was replaced by benefit of the compensation fund at a cost of between £3,000 and £4,000.
Unfortunately, not everyone has been so lucky in having their compensation claims met. The International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund has the advantage that those who want to claim do not have to prove negligence on the part of the ship owner or the ship's master. In any event, it is sometimes speculative—and would have been in the case of the Braer—whether the owner or master would have had the resources to meet compensation claims. However, the downside of that advantage is that compensation from the fund is limited—in respect of the Braer, it is limited to a pay-out of about £50.6 million.
At the outset, quick payments were needed to help cash flows for the worst affected industries, especially fishing and fish farming. Although there was subsequent criticism that payments were made too quickly, even with the benefit of hindsight it is right that businesses that had lost trade overnight should have been helped over their immediate difficulties.
Claims had to be identified before 15 January 1996. In October 1995, 2,000 claims, amounting to £45 million, had been settled. At that stage, a moratorium was placed on further payments. Payments were resumed only in May last year, with a dividend of 40 per cent. of approved, unpaid claims being met.
Many of the claims have been subject to court proceedings. It is only during the past few weeks that a judgment has been entered for one of the major cases, so the sub judice rules no longer apply. It relates to claims made by people who believed that their asbestos cement roofs were damaged.
My constituents and their legal representatives have expressed concern that an unduly legalistic approach was taken by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. Nit-picking points have been made. Although it is not improper for solicitors and counsel advising the fund to draw attention to how its liability might be minimised, we are entitled to ask whether it is politically or morally proper that a fund set up to compensate the victims of pollution should adopt such an approach.
I shall give the House an example. In the case of a couple whose jointly owned property suffered damage from oil pollution a claim was made by the widow, because her husband, sadly, had died in the meantime. The claim was challenged and compensation was reduced by half because she had sued only in her own name and not as the executrix of her husband's estate. No doubt the challenge was legally correct, but it begs the fundamental question of whether it was morally correct.
I have raised such issues with the fund itself and with successive Ministers with responsibility for shipping. The view seems to be taken that although the Government are party to the convention, it is inappropriate for them to intervene in individual cases. However, if the Government cannot intervene as a member of the fund, who can?
The most significant set of claims relates to damage to asbestos cement roofs. People found that their roofs started to buckle and to show signs of damage about 18 months after the Braer went aground and after dispersant was used to try to clear up the spoil. Although, at first, cases were based on damage by oil, when they came to court they were based on contamination by dispersant. In either event, the Lord Ordinary in the Court of Session—Lord Gill—found against the claimants. I do not criticise Lord Gill, as his carefully written opinion reflects the evidence laid before him.
My concern is that the fund undertook several surveys and received reports that it subsequently withheld from the claimants. Those reports may have been helpful to their cause.
In a faxed message to the director of the fund, Mans Jacobsson, in November 1994, Dr. Brian Dicks said:
The recent reports from the Fund's surveyors in Shetland"—
he gives a number of dates—
illustrate a number of the above points, and also contain circumstantial evidence that some current roofing problems may be attributable to oil contamination, based on geographical location and comparison with a small number of controls.
He said that it was important to recognise that a significant part of the comparative control process was provided by the experience gained from the fund's surveyors.
I have subsequently been advised from local sources that a local surveyor, acting on behalf of the fund, submitted to the fund a number of reports concerning damage to asbestos roofs. The principal report concerned the final six months of 1994, and detailed visits, surveys and periodic inspections of a number of properties, including some done beyond the contaminated area to be used as controls. Another surveyor submitted reports in respect of a number of individual claims, including one of damage to an asbestos roof in the village of Cunningsburgh, where the owners had not even thought of claiming until it was suggested to them by a representative of the fund because of the apparent damage to the roof. Now, five years later, and after litigation, they find themselves with a bill for legal expenses.
Efforts have been made by the solicitors for the claimants at the appropriate point in the proceedings to recover the documents and reports. That was resisted by the fund. No doubt it had a legal basis for doing so and the court adjudicated accordingly, but it misses the point. No one in Shetland asked for an oil tanker to land on their doorstep and spill its load, and if the reports do not support the claimants' case, what is to be lost by their disclosure? If, on the other hand, they do lend support to the claimants' case, that survey changes the whole picture. Whatever may be the strict legal position, surely there is a moral case for the fund not to hide behind legal technicalities, but to compensate those who have suffered loss.
I have asked the fund, both in writing and when I met the director last week, whether he would disclose these documents and, to be fair, he has agreed that he will consider the request. I have addressed a similar request to the shipping Minister, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill). I was due to meet him this morning, but unfortunately that meeting has had to be postponed until later in the month. It is important, in the interests of fairness, for these documents to be released. I urge him to use his good offices to recover them. If they do show that there was evidence of the type of damage through contamination that the claimants believe that there is, I believe that an ex gratia settlement from the fund, or indeed from the Government, who had responsibility for the spraying, would be in order.
I wish to raise two further points relating to the Braer. The first concerns expenses. It would be unfair if huge expenses were landed on the doorsteps of those who had the oil land on their doorstep. To be fair, the director of the fund has said that he will not be sending the bailiffs in. Finally, on equality of treatment, there is £3.7 million of unpaid claims already established but only £2.4 million available for further payments. Inevitably, that means a dividend, but others have been paid in full. I have asked successive shipping Ministers how the Government intend to address that inequality, and I still await an answer.
In the House we regularly pay lip service to the adage that the polluter must pay. It is intolerable that the victims of pollution should pay. There is a huge sense of grievance and injustice. There is a belief, too, that a compensation fund should do just that: compensate. I seek the disclosure of the survey reports and an indication of how the Government intend to ensure that there will be equality of treatment.
This is unfinished business. I suspect that I shall not be a Member of the House when it is finished, but I very much hope that it will be concluded in a satisfactory and just way.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. As I explained, it is my wedding anniversary today. I planned a whole evening of fun, frolics and Mrs. Banks, and I would not want to disappoint her. She has not had many fun frolics with me over recent months—or, I hope, with anyone else.
I want to raise a couple of issues on the Adjournment. First, I very much support the Government's decision to delay the local elections—and therefore, we must conclude, the general election. To hold a general election against the backdrop of foot and mouth would not have looked very good, to put it mildly, and it could have been potentially disastrous, given the record of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. No one should ever underestimate MAFF's ability to foul up big-time, and the idea of that happening during a general election is too awful to contemplate.
I feel very sorry for my right hon. and hon. Friends who are MAFF Ministers, because they are caught between an agricultural industry seemingly bent on self-destruction and the daleks that staff MAFF, who are always chanting, "Exterminate them, exterminate them!" I really cannot understand why MAFF seems to be obsessed with slaughtering animals.
Bovine tuberculosis has been prevalent for many years, and MAFF's only response seems to be to kill the badgers. I find that totally unacceptable. Badgers are a protected species, but of course the Government have given themselves a dispensation in that regard, and I understand that MAFF is spending something like £34 million over seven years on killing badgers. It is also using surveillance techniques, police helicopters and photographers, and that is just to deal with concerned members of the public and journalists who try to discover what is going on.
There seems to be considerable weight of scientific opinion around the world that badgers are not responsible for bovine TB. Perhaps those at MAFF should look rather more carefully at the standards of animal husbandry before they go around slaughtering thousands of badgers.
Like many things at MAFF, killing badgers seems to be based more on voodoo than science. Of course, the same is true of the mass slaughter of healthy animals during the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The slaughter seems to have nothing to do with animal welfare; it is all about commercial viability. Even if we were to accept—clearly, opinion suggests that we should—the slaughter of infected animals, the slaughter of healthy creatures is cruel and wanton, if only because it flies in the face of nature.
Thank God MAFF does not run the national health service, although if it did it would certainly have a dramatic impact on waiting lists! The agricultural industry has played dice with nature for far too long, and now we are paying the price. First, innocent animals pay the price—they are slaughtered in their tens of thousands—and secondly, the taxpayer does so.
I cannot believe something that I read in the newspaper. I very rarely believe what I read in the newspapers, but I hope that it is untrue that Mr. Waugh, the farmer at Heddon-on-the-Wall who is allegedly responsible for starting the foot and mouth outbreak in this country by feeding pigs infected meat, is to receive about £50,000 in compensation. I hope that we will find out whether that man is guilty. If he is guilty, he should be prosecuted. If he is guilty, he deserves to go to jail; he does not deserved to be given £50,000 in compensation, paid for by the taxpayer. Indeed, others deserve to be punished—those farmers who moved sheep around the country among their own fellows to fiddle the common agricultural policy.
I feel very sorry, obviously, for decent farmers, but they must be protected by eliminating the rogues and crooks in the industry. My own humble opinion is that there should be a farms inspectorate, rather like the factories inspectorate, which would enable inspectors to enter any farm to assess the standards of animal husbandry and other matters that relate to the production of food. The agricultural industry has acted irresponsibly. We should remember that it brought us salmonella in eggs, BSE, CJD and swine fever, and now it has brought us foot and mouth. We do not need to be experts; we just have to understand nature to know that if we fly in its face, something will go badly wrong.
I remember saying from the Opposition Benches that it was obviously plausible that BSE would enter the human food chain, and Ministers saying that there was no chance of that happening. They were being advised by their MAFF officials, and they said that there was no chance, but our own innate sense told us that if animal protein was fed to herbivores, there would be a price to pay. If a species is fed to the same species—same species feeding—there will be a price to pay. People do not need qualifications in animal husbandry to understand those very basic points of nature.
Intensive farming also represents a blatant disregard for nature, and in the end nature will extract a hideous price from us. I only hope that the next Labour Government will implement a full inquiry into how we produce our food, as the Prime Minister promised—assuming, of course, that we have not all been poisoned by then.
The second issue that I want to raise is the culling of harp seals in Canada, around the Magdelene islands in the north of Newfoundland. This year's cull, which is going on at the moment, involves 275,000 harp seals, leading, some experts say, to a decline in the seal population. Hon. Members may not know that there are two methods of killing seals in Canada. In most cases, a sealer will approach a young seal and club it over the head with an instrument known as a hakapik, which has a 1.5 m handle and an iron head with a curved spike on one side and a short, blunt projection on the other. The seal is hooked and dragged to a central location, where it is skinned.
Alternatively, sealers will shoot many seals from boats, incapacitating the seals so a sealer can approach them for clubbing or skinning. In many cases, the group of seals will writhe in agony until they are killed, and it is common for shot seals to skip into the water and bleed to death, because they are lost to the sealers.
An international panel of vets has claimed that as many as 42 per cent. of seals killed were likely to have been alive when they were hooked, dragged and skinned. How on earth can the Canadian Government allow that barbarity to continue? They say that the fishermen maintain that the seals predate on cod, which is leading to a rundown in the cod stocks. However, we know that industrial fishing methods have depleted cod stocks around the world. There are times when human beings can be venal, selfish and purblind about this planet's resources. The slaughter of harp seals is a disgrace to the entire Canadian nation. What protests have the Government made to the Canadian authorities to let them know how detestable the practice is in the eyes of the public not only in this country, but around the world?
It is a pretty depressing note to finish on, but there are times when I think that human beings as a species are positively detestable. On that cheery note, I set off for a night of fun and to prepare myself for the general election.
It might surprise the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) to hear that I agree with a small part of what he said. I, too, am concerned about the wholesale slaughter of healthy animals, but I will not embark on a discursive argument with him because I want to confine my remarks to foot and mouth disease.
I know from personal experience that border controls on the import of meat and meat products into New Zealand are very stringent. That point was confirmed to me at New Zealand house only three weeks ago, when the opinion was given that it is far easier to smuggle drugs and duty free into New Zealand than animal products.
We should contrast that situation with the United Kingdom, where smuggling is now big business, and the smugglers, unlike the totally harmless vendor of a pound of bananas in Sunderland, are having a bonanza. Alcohol and tobacco smuggling now costs the Treasury £4.25 billion per annum and has led to the loss of countless jobs in he brewing industry and the retail sector. Asylum seekers are smuggled—as many as 100,000 entered the country last year, and doubtless there are more in the pipeline. It is impossible to quantify drug running, but drugs are undoubtedly widely and easily obtainable. The Government have lost control in all those areas. Notwithstanding the fact that we live on an island and are separated from our nearest neighbour by 21 miles of sea, or that we are intrinsically a law-abiding nation, smuggling is rife and extends even to the commodity in which I declare an interest—meat.
On 21 March I asked what response the Agriculture Minister had made to a letter from Mr. Lawrence of Ciel Logistics in May 2000 concerning the health risks associated with consignments of bush meat arriving at Heathrow from Africa. The Minister of State answered:
None; the letter was passed to Her Majesty's Customs and Excise for reply."—[Official Report, 9 April 2001; Vol. 366, c. 476W.]
Mr. Lawrence had written to express his concern about the lack of control over the movement of products of animal origin for human consumption via UK ports, with particular reference to Heathrow airport. In his letter of 10 May to the Agriculture Minister he said:
The points I would like to discuss with you in more detail face to face involve the importation of illegal products and the resource required to combat the detection of these goods … The risk to the community is extremely high given some of this product could contain disease i.e. anthrax, foot and mouth etc. Do I need to say more?
Unfortunately for us all, the answer to that question seems to be yes. Mr. Lawrence subsequently had to write
again highlighting the problem. Speaking to the Farmers Union of Wales, he described how at Heathrow his organisation had found
more than five tonnes of illegal meat concealed in suitcases that arrived on 14 flights from Lagos".
We have also found cases packed with bush rats, antelope meat, fish and monkeys.
When asked in Agriculture questions by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins), about personal imports of meat and meat imports the Minister of State replied that
this issue needs to be considered urgently and it needs to be considered at the European level."—[Official Report, 5 April 2001; Vol. 366, c. 490.]
In other words, Ministers have consistently said, "Not me guv. I'm only the Minister." These are matters for Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, for the European Union or for anyone other than this craven Government.
Nothing better illustrates the Government's whole approach to the foot and mouth epidemic sweeping the country than their failure to heed the warnings, their failure to follow the advice in the Northumberland report that followed the 1967 outbreak, their failure to act decisively and to establish a workable command-and-control system, and the paralysis in the decision-making process that has invariably resulted in too little too late.
Part of the explanation for that miserable state of affairs is the fact that agriculture policy decisions are taken at the centre; there is no local, regional or national autonomy. The agriculture collective in which the British industry is enmeshed is controlled from Brussels. That is why, when the European Union decided to close all livestock markets, the Minister could not without reference to Brussels tell the House whether the United Kingdom could continue to use market premises as collection centres for abattoirs. That is why, to the utter amazement of the British public, the Government—of whom the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) is still a member—cannot make the ultimate decision about vaccination. So it goes on.
Last year, I told the House that the common agricultural policy had failed and failed comprehensively. I said:
It has failed producers, consumers, taxpayers and the nation."—[Official Report, 11 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 1075.]
Those words have been echoed by the Prime Minister. Last month, he was reported as saying that the common agricultural policy was
bad for taxpayers, bad for consumers, had for the environment and ultimately bad for farmers".
The Prime Minister and I make unlikely bedfellows, but I am delighted to welcome him to the real world.
News bulletins today are saying that, since movement restrictions were imposed, there have been 300 illegal sheep movements. It is impossible to know whether that figure is an overestimate or an underestimate—who knows?—but we know for certain that those illegal sheep movements are a direct consequence of the European Union sheep regime based, as it is, on quotas and headage payments. Unlike the old UK deficiency payment scheme, it is wide open to fraud and abuse.
To return to the Government's handling of the outbreak, a week last Friday I had a site meeting with my constituent, Mr. Michael Holloway of Gwarthlow farm, Churchstoke. He had been told the previous day that his dairy herd was to be slaughtered. Present at the meeting was an Army officer who assured me that organisationally matters were generally well under control, but that operationally there were problems because there was a shortage of vets and of slaughtermen. That was on the very day that I read in my newspaper that the British Small Animal Veterinary Association had offered to cancel its annual conference so as to volunteer its members to assist the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the cull, an offer that MAFF had apparently declined.
In the meantime, my constituent, Mr. A. C. Webster of Ludlow, who is a qualified slaughtermen, had been refused permission to take unpaid leave to go on the cull even though he was temporarily without work with his employer, the Meat Hygiene Service, which is another agency of government. The facts simply do not add up. If they do, they add up to a picture of muddle and confusion out of which the Government emerge with little credit.
We have the nonsensical situation in which fit animals in restricted areas cannot be consigned to abattoirs, but animals in the welfare disposal scheme apparently can be. We have the ridiculous situation in which healthy animals in contiguous and firebreak areas are being killed sometimes against their owners wishes, while the cull of 1.5 million animals that owners want to dispose of under the welfare disposal scheme is endlessly delayed.
The situation is appalling. Healthy animals are being dispatched, even though there is a massive backlog of carcases to dispose of. In addition, we have the phenomenon of the Minister urging farmers not to appeal against the culling of healthy animals when, from day one, the biggest problem has been the Government's failure to authorise the prompt dispatch and disposal of animals known to be infected. That is against a background of the ban on the export of meat and meat products from other countries with foot and mouth disease being applied on a regional or provincial basis rather than a national basis, as in the case of the Netherlands and Uruguay. In fairness, I note that restrictions on Northern Ireland will be lifted next week, subject to there being no further outbreaks. I welcome that.
In the few seconds remaining to me, I want to deal with another aspect of the crisis and draw Ministers' attention to the plight of my constituents who, through no fault of their own, are without an income. It is self-evident that if one is running a business and there are insufficient customers or profits on sales to cover the overheads, the business is unsustainable. Even worse, if there are no customers, the business must cease trading. It could not be put better—
The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Mr. Grocott) was inspiring. I am sure that most hon. Members would echo what he said about the improvements that have been made to many different aspects of public services in their constituencies. However, I want to focus on something on which the Government are not doing so well.
I am concerned about East Ravendale school in the Lincolnshire wolds. Every time I hear Education Ministers say that they are getting rid of outside toilets and mobile classrooms in schools, I want to put up my hand and say to the Secretary of State, "Please, sir. You're not doing that in East Ravendale." The school is successful and I pay tribute to the head teacher, Mike Pickwell, on what he and his teachers manage to achieve in difficult circumstances. To put it simply and succinctly, the conditions in which the children are being taught are not acceptable in this day and age, especially given the Government's commitment on school facilities.
The school has only three girls' and three boys' toilets for a roll of about 130 pupils. Those outside toilets are used by all age groups, from three-year-olds to year 6. It is difficult to supervise children, especially the very young ones, when they use the toilets, which are damp and mouldy. The children always get soaked when they go to them from their classrooms in bad weather and there are no disabled facilities. In addition, the toilets have recently been invaded by rats. I do not want to dwell on that. It is a rural school and there is wildlife around it. However, the rats have caught the imagination of the pupils who recently wrote to me and presented me with some wonderful books that show how they feel about them. Almost every page has a picture of rats. Although the rats are smiling, I do not think that the children are so happy. One picture is of a girl in an outside loo shrieking with horror because the rats are underneath her.
The staff loos are also outside. They have not been invaded by rats, but there are many friendly spiders. There is one toilet for male staff and one for female staff, which have to be used when they get changed for PE lessons. It is impossible to have inside toilet facilities in the school because there is no building in which to put them. All five classrooms in the school are in mobile facilities that are well past their sell-by date and on a slope. They suffer from severe structural problems and inadequate glazing, poor heating and poor ventilation. That means that classrooms are too hot in summer and far too cold in winter; they are overcrowded and there is virtually no room for information technology facilities. I am afraid that rats have taken up residence under one mobile classroom.
There is just one small brick building in the school—the old school hall, which, for metric martyrs in the House measures 9.6 m by 4.5 m, so there is no space in it for inside toilets. The hall is used for teaching the children, but it is also the main entrance to the school so, when anyone visits, lessons are disrupted. We need a new school; it is as simple as that. There is no room for medical facilities in the school; the children cannot do PE properly, and equipment has to be stored in an old garage. Because of the physical geography of its location—there are slopes and steps between mobile classrooms—disabled children cannot go to the school. Even for the able-bodied children, it is very dangerous in icy weather.
Land is available for a new school, and it is owned by the local authority. I am trying to encourage Ministers to assist the local authority to secure funding for a new
school for East Ravendale. A letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was sent to the leader of the council, Councillor Len Taylor, on 30 March, in which he states:
I am very concerned at what you describe, particularly given that I have sought to target funding to eliminate reliance on outside toilets and reduce the level of temporary accommodation in poor condition.
We managed to get officials from the Department for Education and Employment to visit the school on 2 April, when we experienced what was probably the best weather of the year so far. They chose to visit on a lovely spring morning; it was sunny and the bulbs were out. They must have thought that they were visiting an idyllic village in the Lincolnshire wolds. They should have seen it when it was pouring with rain, the kids were getting wet going outside all the time, and damp was being brought into the classrooms. That would have shown them the problems faced by the school.
The school, the parents, the chair of governors, Mark Webb, Councillor Len Taylor, the director of education, Geoff Hill, and I all support the campaign for a new school in East Ravendale, as that is the only way that we are going to tackle the problem of mobile classrooms and outside toilets. The campaign has gone on for too long; I do not want East Ravendale school to be the only school left in the country with outside toilets. If an Education Minister stands up and says that the Government have got rid of outside toilets, I shall jump up again to say, "Oh no you haven't. Get on and help the council to get funding for a new school in East Ravendale."
I welcome the opportunity before the Easter Adjournment to raise two issues of crucial importance to my constituents, on which something needs to be done urgently.
First, the erection of telecommunications masts by Orange is causing tremendous problems in a residential area of Chelmsford. The mast that is the bone of much contention in the town was refused planning permission by Chelmsford borough council. Orange took the council's decision to appeal with the independent planning inspectorate, which reversed the council's decision to allow that unsightly telecommunications mast to be erected in a residential area, opposite shops and surrounded by domestic dwellings. The mast is unsightly and there is still a belief that masts are a health hazard although, to be fair, the jury is still out on that issue.
Something is seriously wrong when a community is united against having a telecommunications mast in its residential area, the local authority, the Member of Parliament and everyone else are opposed to it, but companies are allowed to put masts up against the wishes of local people. Springfield residents association and local residents in the Bodmin road and Torquay road area of Chelmsford have fought vigorously—as, to its credit, has Chelmsford borough council—although, sadly, to no avail.
The time has come for this House and the Government to look again at the whole issue of planning and telecommunications masts. We have seen just the tip of the iceberg; another wave of masts will have to be erected owing to the popularity of mobile telephones. We need to change planning guidance, so that the views of local communities and the environmental impact and the possible health hazard of masts are taken more into account.
We must also bring greater uniformity to the decision-making process of the planning inspectorate in Bristol. We in Chelmsford have seen decisions on cases in Stanmore and in Harrow, for example, where applications were made to place similar masts in similar residential areas. The planning inspectorate has said that on grounds of both visual impact and possible health problems those masts should not be erected, yet the inspector who considered the appeal in Chelmsford has allowed erection of the mast to go ahead.
My constituents are perplexed. How can one inspector say no in Stanmore because the mast would be in a residential area, might create a health hazard and would certainly be unsightly, but another from the same organisation say yes in Chelmsford? We must consider the issue as a matter of urgency because it will impact more and more on people's lives and on more and more hon. Members' constituencies.
The second issue that I should like to raise concerns the number of houses that are to be inflicted on the Chelmsford local authority area as a result of the planning diktats of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Over the next 10 years, 12,500 new dwellings are to be forced on Chelmsford. This decade, greenfield sites will be concreted over because Chelmsford does not have enough brownfield land to sustain the housebuilding that the Government are demanding of it. I always thought—the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed this in a written answer to me a year ago—that the 60 per cent. brownfield build figure was a national average. Therefore, areas that can take more than 60 per cent. brownfield site development should have more housing, and areas that do not have enough brownfield sites to meet the target should take less.
We have been landed with the building of 12,500 houses. I particularly resent the fact that 2,500 of them will be nothing to do with the future housing needs of mid-Essex. We are being told to take 2,500 houses in order to relieve pressure on housing in the south of the county. The Government want the Thames gateway to be an area of industrial development and growing employment. Why cannot the housing be in that part of the county in order to sustain the jobs that the Government rightly want to create? Sadly, we must have them in Chelmsford; they are being dumped on us—we are being asked to take a disproportionate amount of housing.
Where is that housing to go in the Chelmsford local authority area? There is a reasonable amount of brownfield land in my constituency, which will obviously be used up, but we must still provide a significant amount of other land for extra housing. The village of Boreham has been singled out by Liberal Democrat-controlled Chelmsford borough council for 2,000 of the houses. Boreham is a very small village and a compact community, and to swamp it with more than 2,000 houses will totally destroy its nature.
There is an irony that will be apparent to anyone who is not cynical. Sadly, any cynical person will have seen the trend in Liberal Democrat-controlled councils throughout the country. By strange co-incidence, Boreham had a by-election for Chelmsford borough council in early July last year. Of course, the prospect of significant housebuilding in the village was a major issue in the campaign. The seat had been held for 13 years by a Liberal Democrat councillor who had retired. Through literature, interviews and press releases to the local papers, the Liberal Democrat candidate, with the full support of the Liberal Democrat leader of the council, spent the entire campaign assuring prospective voters that he was solidly opposed to any housebuilding in Boreham, and that as the elected councillor, he would fight against it.
Funnily enough, the Conservatives won that by-election, which shows the good sense of the good people of Boreham. Not only did they win it, but they won it on a turn-out of 42 per cent., with a 30 per cent. swing to the Conservatives. Lo and behold, only three months ago, it was Liberal Democrat-controlled Chelmsford borough council that decided to dump 2,000 houses on the village of Boreham. My constituents in Boreham are utterly perplexed at that sudden about-turn.
Although the Liberal Democrat candidate is not the borough councillor for Chelmsford, the leader of Chelmsford borough council is still the same man who stood side by side with that candidate when they were trying to get the voters of Boreham to vote for him, assuring the people of Boreham that they would not have the housing there and that the Liberal Democrats would protect Boreham from becoming a suburb of Chelmsford.
That is a classic example of the Liberal Democrats' behaviour. In what I assume will shortly be a general election, I would not want to be the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate campaigning in the village of Boreham. The people of Boreham have been bitten once and they will not believe a single word that a Liberal Democrat politician tells them, not only about housebuilding, but on any other subject under the sun.
My constituency will be crucified by the amount of housebuilding that is to be forced upon it in the next 10 years. That is wrong. Even at this late stage, I urge the Government to place the proposed 2,500 houses in the Thames gateway and to reconsider the number of houses that they believe should be built.
Last Wednesday, at about 11.15 am, it was finally recognised that there had been an escape of sulphur trioxide from the sulphuric acid plant at Rhodia Eco Services Ltd, which is known locally as Staveley Chemicals, a previous name of the plant. Staveley Chemicals dominates the Staveley area and used to employ a great number of people. It now employs only 130, but those are important jobs.
The emissions had lasted for half an hour and, in breezy conditions, were spread over the rest of Staveley and into the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). If it had been raining at the time, or there had been a great deal of moisture in the air, that would have turned the sulphur trioxide into acid, creating serious problems. It is not easy to determine whether it was worse for the breeze to disperse the sulphur trioxide, or whether the situation would have been worse if it had remained static, held by rain.
The emergency services moved quickly and, once the situation became clear, the police and fire services were on the spot. Nineteen roads in Staveley were blocked off, and the indications are that the emergency services operation worked well, although there is further debriefing to be done and further information to be supplied to Derbyshire county council.
Staveley Chemicals has a siren that sounds when any emergency occurs. It now has an all-clear system, which ensured that another signal was sounded 45 minutes after the emergency signal, when the procedure had been completed. At one stage, it had only the initial emergency sound, so when false alarms occurred, people sometimes remained in their homes for considerable periods with their windows locked. Some of them stayed hidden under tables and so on, and did not know when to come out. I subsequently made representations suggesting the introduction of an all-clear system. There is a difficulty in the area, as Coalite at Bolsover, which is not far away, also has a siren system and it is not always clear which siren is being sounded.
The current investigation into what occurred is being conducted under the COMAH—control of major accident hazards—regulations. The incident in question took place after recent maintenance work. Three policemen and a television camera worker were taken to the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal hospital and released later after treatment. Immediate investigations were set up by the integrated pollution control unit of the Environment Agency, working in association with the Health and Safety Executive. The plant's liaison committee, which is chaired by councillor Vicky Lang, meets today in Staveley to look into what occurred. The Derbyshire county council emergency planning unit is also reviewing operations with regard to the emergencies.
Unfortunately, the incident was not unique in North-East Derbyshire. In May and June 1998, there were two serious escapes of acid gas at the SARP plant in Killamarsh. In one incident, the gas escaped from a tanker. The other escape was emitted from a tank that imploded. In that incident, the tank that the tankers were filling up imploded, with a massive escape of acid gas. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment later visited the SARP plant and the Killamarsh area. The offending processes at Killamarsh have since been moved from the site, which is now owned by Onyx. I am seeking the close attention of my right hon. Friend and of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions with regard to the incident. It is likely that prosecutions will occur following the Environment Agency investigation.
Under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has power to introduce regulatory measures. Although that Act derived from the need to codify European Union regulations, it was also influenced by the SARP incidents, which had an important impact on the understanding of these matters that was gained by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment. We must find out whether the powers that the 1999 Act provides are adequate for dealing with such circumstances, or whether the legislation should be added to, perhaps with provisions that confer prosecution powers against directors.
I have raised that matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in connection with the ex-Vinatex workers group. The Vinatex firm was situated in the Staveley area, near Staveley Chemicals. It closed shortly before I became an MP in 1987. An investigation that was recently conducted by the trade union safety team made various suggestions about the problems that occurred and about the risks faced by workers in the plastics industry in terms of cancers and other serious effects. It also pointed out the lessons that can be learned about more serious action in future. The matter is well understood by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, and the incident at Staveley, which covered a vast area, needs to be taken on board in that regard.
Staveley Chemicals is next to Stanton plc, which is owned by Saint-Gobain, a French-based multinational company. Saint-Gobain took over Biwater Industries (Clay Cross) Ltd. in my constituency and immediately announced the plant's closure with the loss of nearly 700 jobs, leaving only a few maintenance workers. Jobs at Stanton plc, next to Staveley Chemicals, seem to be guaranteed for the time being, but given the way in which Saint-Gobain operates and is seeking to transfer a great deal of pipe production overseas, a problem still exists for Stanton plc.
I want to refer to the dismissal of workers at Biwater. Marks and Spencer proposed the closure of 18 stores in France, but after a plea by trade unions, on 29 March a judge in Paris ruled that Marks and Spencer had failed in its responsibility under French and EU law to give due warning to the workers, contrary to works council provisions in particular. Britain has no similar legislation, but had we had it, the 700 jobs at the Biwater plant in Clay Cross might still remain.
These problems arising in my constituency in the Staveley area and in Clay Cross, provide lessons for the Department of Trade and Industry.
My speech today is in two parts. First, I want to lay before the House the situation of my constituent, Mr. Crawley. Mr. Crawley is dying; indeed, he may already be dead as I speak. He has cancer, and neither his family nor I are in any doubt that his condition has been caused by the stress to which he has been subjected by the Ministry of Defence.
I shall not weary the House with all the details of his case; suffice it to say that Mr. Crawley's firm, Chesswood Floors, was a flooring contractor to the Ministry of Defence. His work for it in Kent over several years was of a quality which allowed him to win a contract carpeting MOD houses in Aldershot.
Out of the blue, acting on an allegation of fraud from an undisclosed source, the Ministry of Defence raided his office in May 1992 and took from it not only papers relating to the MOD but all his other business papers, to which it had no legal right whatever.
As a result, Chesswood Floors was forced into liquidation, Mr. Crawley's honesty had been impugned, the Crown Prosecution Service has confirmed that it has no charges to bring—yet the Government, despite assurances on several occasions, have failed to disclose the necessary documents to allow Mr. Crawley a chance to rebut the allegations. Whenever he has complained, the MOD has told him that if he does not like it he can always go to court. How crude, how disingenuous and how tyrannical.
The MOD knows perfectly well that Mr. Crawley cannot afford to go to court. The whole thing smacks of MOD techniques perfected over centuries of dealing with aggrieved citizens—drag it out long enough and they will die off. We have seen it with soldiers entitled to compensation often enough; we are seeing it here now.
This is a clear case of Government bullying which has killed one of my constituents, and we should not adjourn until the Government promise instant action and redress.
Our procedures, based on the mediaeval belief that the best way to arrive at the truth is through adversarial confrontation, make it difficult to concentrate hon. Members' minds on anything but the shortest of short terms. However, unless we make a considered examination of the country's future, we shall betray not only those who sent us here but their children and grandchildren.
By some international measurements, we are one of the half-dozen richest countries in the world. We have houses, footballers and disc jockeys worth several million pounds. We are inventive, energetic and proud of our achievements. Why should not our current prosperity last for ever?
I live on the top floor of a block of flats. The block is well run, and serious defects are quickly spotted and speedily remedied. If I wish to improve my flat, I can do so with confidence. I sometimes believe that the United Kingdom is like a block of flats; let us call it UK court. It is full of people on the upper flows who are busily engaged in improving their property, building penthouses, putting in swimming pools and picture windows. However, unlike my block of flats, the basement of UK court is rotting away. Before too long, the effects of the largely neglected rot will spread to higher floors and destroy the building.
I invite hon. Members to consider elements that should receive much more attention. I begin with demography. By 2016, for the first time in our history, the number of people who are over 65 will be greater than that of those under 16. That will present enormous challenges. In previous centuries, we coped with demographic shifts by improving technology. However, the greatest need of an ageing and increasingly solitary population will be for human help. Its members are likely to be the least well equipped to adapt to new technologies. We shall need people to fill the gap.
The current debate on immigration should therefore be conducted without hysteria. We need more people if our public services are to survive and our older citizens are to be adequately cared for. We can find them either by immorally robbing much poorer countries of the skilled people on whom their future depends, or by adopting a rational immigration policy. Such a policy would either make use of the skills of our current immigrants instead of forcing them to do unskilled, illegal work, or it would establish a quota of foreigners who would be allowed to settle here permanently.
There are two other choices. First, we could stop killing our unborn children. Abortion rates among women aged 16 to 19 and 20 to 24 have been growing fast. In the 16 to 19 age group, abortions have increased from 2.5 per 1,000 in 1968 to 26.5 per 1,000 in 1998. For 20 to 24-year-olds, abortions have increased from 3.4 to 30.4 per 1,000 women. The UK has chosen a path that makes substituting foreigners for UK-born citizens inevitable.
The second option brings me to the next symptom of rot in UK court. We could make better use of our young people. We could start to love our children instead of disregarding them. We could give them the care and education that they need. We could give those who go off the rails the support that would return them to mainstream society. We currently do precisely the opposite. As a society, we do not love our children. In 1999, the Office for National Statistics found that 10 per cent. of our schoolchildren suffer from mental disorders and 30 per cent. of those are never seen by a consultant or even a general practitioner. Such children are four times more likely to play truant, three times more likely to suffer from specific learning difficulties and 10 times more likely to be in trouble with the police.
This is when we really show how we care for our children: once those children, whose homes are poor and usually fragmented, go off the rails, we clamour for them to be subjected to the full rigour of the law. "Lock them up", we cry, and we do. Although the incidence of youth crime has scarcely altered in the past 10 years, the number of those locked up has "gratifyingly" increased. Between 1991 and 2000, the number of male young offenders under sentence in young offenders institutions rose from 5,683 to 8,224. And what a good place to send them: 77 per cent. reoffended within two years of their discharge. Between a quarter and a third of the residents of young offenders institutions are not even convicted but are on remand. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
We should be even more ashamed of the next thing that I am about to mention. I wonder whether the House realises that, once in a young offenders institution or any other penal institution, a child is deprived of the protection of the Children Act 1989. If a 15 or 16-year-old on remand is raped, the social services cannot even carry out an investigation under the Act. What do we think we are doing?
Let us leave on one side our children who take to crime—after all, everyone else does. Let us look at our schools. We travel the world teaching other countries how to run an education system, so we surely must be good at it. Each year, 200,000 children fail to obtain at least one GCSE of grade C or above, and 30,000 leave with no graded GCSEs at all. That is hardly a stunning return on 42,000 hours of compulsory school attendance. No wonder truancy is on the increase.
GCSEs apart, what about skills? In some parts of England, almost four out of 10 adults cannot read or write properly or do simple sums. About 24 per cent. of adults in the United Kingdom can be described as functionally illiterate. As the international adult literacy survey found, 8 million people in the United Kingdom are so poor at reading and writing that they cannot cope with the demands of modern life.
This rich, proud country is turning out of its schools more functionally illiterate people than any country in the European Union except Italy. Not only is it a disgrace—indeed, a form of child abuse—but it spells huge dangers for the rest of us. People who cannot find work or earn a decent wage turn disproportionately to antisocial behaviour and disrupt the lives of the rest of us. If compassion does not move us, let us try self-interest. Self-interest persuaded the Victorians to build public drains. Would it persuade us to improve our schools? It had better, because even if we set aside the need for dignity and self-regard as unimportant, we need these men and women for the future.
I could go on and on. I could point to the alarming rise in sexually transmitted infections and the frequent comments from our young that they do not know enough about HIV-AIDS. I could ask whether we are on the verge of a sharp increase in HIV. I could point out that our young people drink more alcohol and drink to excess more often than any other young people in Europe. We should listen to the voices of young people. The creation of the UK Youth Parliament has been of some benefit so far. Let us listen to the young people who have positive ideas for the future and try to make sense of our lives.
Order. I see that a considerable number of Members wish to contribute to the debate. If hon. Members make their comments even shorter than 10 minutes, several more may be able to catch my eye.
I wish to raise two constituency cases relating to the investigation of and response to complaints about health treatment. They have led me and many others to draw attention to the need for further reform of the NHS complaints procedures. The first case relates to an elderly man, and the second to a child.
The elderly man, Mr. Alfred Riddle, was taken into hospital on 8 March 1993. He was advised by his consultant that he had a small bleeding ulcer that required surgery. The family were advised that there was some risk, owing to his age. The operation was carried out on 10 March. He was then admitted to the intensive care unit. He died 16 days after the operation. The family were informed half an hour before he died that he had been suffering from stomach cancer and that it had spread, causing major organ failure. The family refused the death certificate as a result. They asked the key question why incorrect information had been provided before surgery, thus precluding Mr. Riddle senior and his family from making an informed decision about the proposed treatment.
When the hospital was questioned, it gave several different responses at different times. The family took up the complaint formally with the hospital trust in 1994. They were dissatisfied with the reply, which they found to be dissembling. They requested an independent review. The request was considered by the associate director of public health, but was deemed inappropriate. The family were instructed to resolve the matter locally. No appeal against that decision was possible under the procedure at that time. A number of meetings were held with the family. That did not resolve the complaint.
The family then approached the health service commissioner to seek an intervention, but with no success. The commissioner rejected the case because complaints should normally reach the ombudsman within a year of the event taking place or coming to his notice.
I wrote to the Minister, Baroness Jay, suggesting an independent review to satisfy the family. That was rejected. The advice provided was that the only alternative was for the family to seek legal advice. I sought a further ministerial meeting this time with Baroness Hayman. I was then informed that no appeal against the decision to refuse an independent review was possible under the original procedures and new procedures for NHS complaints had been instituted, but that a complaint that had first been lodged under the old procedures could not be taken up under the new procedures.
The system has proved to be totally inadequate in establishing the truth of the case, in satisfying the family's concerns and in demonstrating that any lessons have been learned for the future so that no one else has to go through that experience. Naturally, the family are not only concerned but extremely angry. Nearly 10 years after the event, they still do not know the facts of what happened to their beloved father.
I turn to an equally, if not more, tragic case: the case of my constituent Joanna Nash. She was aged six. She became ill on 31 August 1994, at which time she was taken to her doctor. The doctor advised her mother not to take her to hospital immediately, but on the following day she was no better. On 1 September 1994, Mrs. Nash took Joanna to Hillingdon hospital, where it was felt by the treating doctor that she should not be admitted; gastro-enteritis was diagnosed.
On 3 September 1994, Mrs. Nash took Joanna back to the hospital as there were no visible signs of improvement in her daughter's condition. This time, Joanna was admitted to hospital. Her kidneys had failed. On Sunday 4 September 1994, Joanna was transferred to Great Ormond Street children's hospital where her condition was immediately diagnosed as haemolytic uraemic syndrome and she was put on a dialysis machine. Unfortunately, that six-year-old child died on Friday 9 September 1994 at Great Ormond Street hospital.
The family were concerned with the treatment that Joanna received at Hillingdon hospital and met the consultants to question them about the nature of the treatment that was received, about the treatment that should have been received and about what the diagnosis should have been. They found the answers to be insufficient, to say the least. They went to an independent professional review. They discovered that even during the independent review, a number of factors had not been taken into account. Hillingdon hospital had refused to supply a blood sample to specialists so that they could further the investigation.
At no stage have the family been given a copy of the report that the specialists undertook in the investigation itself. Later, they discovered that the condition was caused by the bacterium E. coli O157, but the review itself never discovered that. They had to find that information themselves.
Joanna's notes were looked at independently as a result of the family's own intervention. It became apparent that errors were made in her "treatment", which not only failed to diagnose the problem, but even made the condition worse.
On the basis of that information, the family sought to reopen the inquiry. They were refused and told that it was not possible within the existing procedures, so there has been no opportunity to investigate and to demonstrate whether the practices for treating Joanna were adequate or whether any lessons have been learned. The Nashes have set up an organisation that has campaigned over a number of years, linking families who have gone through similar experiences. I pay tribute to the work that they have done to raise awareness of that condition and of the need for better treatment. However, throughout all this, they have been told that the time limits preclude any further investigation of their daughter's death.
I believe that it is time to review the NHS complaints procedure to deal with the difficult cases that have been caught in the transitional process of change between the two complaints systems: the one prior to April 1996 and the one after it. There is a need to review cases that have been debarred simply because they were initially pursued under the system before 19 April 1996. There is a need to institute procedures for reopening inquiries when new information comes to light. There is a need for greater flexibility in the administration of time limits. No time limits are set in relation to serious crimes or miscarriages of justice and none should be set in these cases. There is now a need for a specialist agency to investigate complex cases that is similar to the Criminal Cases Review Commission which investigates miscarriages of justice. I urge that there should be greater lay input to any new procedure that we may establish.
My sympathy goes out to the families who have suffered so much—the Riddle family and the Nash family. They have suffered because the system was inadequate to meet their concerns. However, I salute them for their persistence in seeking reform and justice.
I shall try to be extremely brief as I appreciate that colleagues wish to contribute to the debate. However, given that we shall have a 12-day recess, it is a great pity that time could not be found for a proper day-long debate on the impact of the foot and mouth crisis which is affecting many hon. Members. I think that many people in the countryside will find it bizarre that we shall be taking a recess of almost a fortnight in which hon. Members will have no opportunity to question Ministers. I am also still waiting for just one answer to any of my written questions that is more substantive than, "I will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible."
Some weeks ago, at Little Chesterton in my constituency, we had an isolated outbreak of foot and mouth. It was a devastating tragedy not only for the farmer concerned, Clive Hawes, but for the surrounding area. The result of that isolated incident was that MAFF designated an area within a 16 km radius of the outbreak as an infected area. The designation covers a vast area, going from Abingdon to Witney, round to Buckingham, Aylesbury and Thame and back to Abingdon, and affects a large number of farmers.
The effect of being in a designated area is that farmers inside it are subject to even tighter controls than those applying outside it. They cannot, for example, send their animals to slaughter or move them more than half a kilometre. It is also difficult for farmers in the area to enter animals into the welfare disposal scheme because, whereas animals in an infected area have to be slaughtered within that area, there is no slaughterhouse in the area. Although on-farm slaughter is an option, that option does not seem to have been approved yet by MAFF and the Intervention Board. So, the animals are trapped on the farms, and the farms are rapidly becoming overstocked. We shall have some extremely distressing animal welfare problems.
Yesterday, I informed the Agriculture Minister of the concerns of Mrs. Wilcox, who has 3,000 piglets on her farm in temporary straw accommodation which has become waterlogged from the heavy rain. They cannot be slaughtered or moved. Almost daily, farmers telephone me in considerable distress because they cannot resolve issues in relation to ewes that are lambing in inappropriate conditions. However, their stress is compounded by the fact that they cannot get any answers from MAFF. No one answers the telephones or will tell them what is happening. More important, no one seems to recognise the problems that those farmers are facing.
To date, there have been no further outbreaks of foot and mouth in Oxfordshire. In previous outbreaks, the boundary of an infected area could be reviewed and reduced. Now, we have a ludicrous situation in which MAFF can designate an infected area of 16 km, but says that it cannot lift the designation without authorisation from Brussels. There does not seem to be an accepted understanding or process of how such authorisation is sought.
Therefore, large numbers of farmers in Oxfordshire seem to be stuck in a system in which their farms are simply over-burgeoning with livestock that they cannot move or have slaughtered, producing ever-increasing animal welfare problems. MAFF officials do not yet seem to be able to consider ways of approaching Brussels to determine how they can modify an infected area boundary. They seem to have the power to impose draconian restrictions, but no power to remove them.
I entirely accept the need for livestock movements to be controlled, especially in the tragic areas where the disease is running riot, but common sense must prevail. In the case of farmers in my constituency, there must be a strong argument for an urgent review of the existing control measures. Those farmers cannot simply be left to struggle on until MAFF officials get round to dealing with their problems.
I ask the Minister to use his influence with his MAFF colleagues to encourage them to carry out an urgent review of the current infected area imposed in Oxfordshire. I believe that there are similar problems in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, where isolated outbreaks have also taken place. Can there please be some recognition of the problems that are being experienced? Otherwise, over the Easter break Ministers will see on their television screens an increasing number of distressing pictures of animals that are themselves in considerable distress—scenes that I think would be offensive to everyone, and which are already causing great concern to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and others. Farmers are powerless to act, and they are becoming increasingly upset.
I would like to say much more about the impact of foot and mouth disease on individual farmers and businesses connected with tourism in my constituency, but I know that time is short and others wish to speak. I hope that the Minister will take my points on board. I would welcome a substantive written reply to my queries, and something more from the Government than everyone seems currently to be receiving—the standard response to parliamentary questions, which is that an answer will be given as soon as possible. What we would like, and our farmers would like—as would others who are involved—is some answers today.
I want to focus on the earthquake in Gujarat. I have met constituents of all faiths, races and backgrounds who have contributed in one way or another to the many victims and loved ones of that horrible earthquake, which took place on 26 January 2001.
Huge cracks in the salt flats of the Rann of Kutch—it is not always understood how such cracks come about—marked the epicentre of the quake. At that point, some six miles below the surface, a failure in the seismic fault triggered an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale. It resulted in the death of many thousands of people; it has also meant the destruction of the livelihoods of far more people in India and elsewhere than can be imagined.
Many of our constituents who have close ties with India through friends and family jumped into action with money-raising and other activities. Quite a few immediately went to India to help. Most of our schools helped with fund-raising in imaginative ways; temples, mosques, churches and synagogues sprang into action. I am honoured to represent a constituency containing so many people who immediately went out of their way to help India in whatever manner they could think of, and I am sure that I am not the only Member present with such constituents.
This tragedy is no different from similar occurrences in Greece, Turkey, China, El Salvador and Iran, but the scale of death and destruction is almost inevitably greater in India. The earth shook 1,200 miles away from the epicentre, and the quake was felt as far away as Nepal. Gujarat is a state with 42 million people, and tens of thousands of British Indians have extended families in that part of the sub-continent.
Within two days, the Indian army had mobilised its biggest emergency operation since the massive quake in 1950. The United Kingdom sent a 70-strong team ready to search for survivors, and to help fight diseases, set up tent camps, provide food and blankets, and assist in hospitals. India was well prepared in many ways—or as well prepared as it could have been—because almost half of India is prone to earthquakes. The weakest links are, perhaps, the collapsed modern tower blocks, which point to the ignoring of building codes and a failure to observe safety measures.
I wrote to the Prime Minister and to Ministers who deal with immigration matters to ask our Government to review speedily and with compassion immigration procedures for dependants of British citizens affected by the horrors of the earthquake and its aftermath. The replies were entirely positive and sensitive; I thank the Prime Minister and his colleagues for that.
I also wrote to Ministers about the enormous work undertaken in India by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha who have provided food, medicine, clothing and many other necessities for the survivors of the earthquake. The distribution of relief material was the initial focus of BAPS; help was given to about 300 towns and villages by 6,500 volunteers, including doctors and many professionals. To give but one example, well over 1.5 million pouches of water have already been provided by BAPS. All the volunteers offer honorary service and the organisation has zero administration costs—remarkable in itself—so every pound donated goes directly and in full to the relief of the sufferers.
At present, rehabilitation of the homeless is the focus for BAPS; there is an imaginative low-cost, sponsor-a-home scheme and a hospital with modern facilities is being constructed in Bhuj.
My hon. Friend describes clearly what has been happening in his constituency. Equally, in my constituency, in the borough of Harrow, considerable efforts have been made by the Asian community and by churches and synagogues alike to raise funds to relieve the immediate suffering of those in the Gujarati earthquake. Does my hon. Friend share my view that we also need to consider how we rebuild the communities which have been hit by the earthquake? We must continue to exert pressure on our Government and on other Governments to ensure that, once the immediate publicity disappears, we retain the focus on rebuilding the state of Gujarat.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments; I associate myself with every word of them.
I had planned to say a few more things, but as time is limited and other hon. Members want to speak, I shall point out only that if people want further information, they should please consult the website—www.swaminarayan.org. Will my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office consider any further assistance that the Government could give to victims of the earthquake?
I, too, shall be brief, so as to allow other hon. Members to speak. I want to raise three planning issues on which the Government need to step in, to take account of the frustrations experienced by many local authorities and the constituents of many hon. Members when dealing with such matters. We need Government action.
The first issue relates to planning for mobile phone masts and to points made earlier. I agreed entirely with the comments of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns)—at least, until he started talking about by-election results. There are considerable concerns in my constituency. Objections to the siting of phone masts have been made by action groups such as the Byron avenue action group and by a large number of villagers in my own village of Bramdean. At present, the policy is a mess; up and down the country, the four main providers submit applications week by week and no strategic consideration has been made of how local authorities can handle them.
We have the bizarre situation that some masts, below a certain height, do not require full planning permission, so the system can almost be bypassed. Conflicting advice and messages are received on health. Sometimes the message from the Government is that local authorities should take a precautionary approach, but there are no provisions in planning law to enable them to enact such an approach so as formally to take account of health concerns. Throughout the country, test cases take conflicting views. With the development of new technology, we have the prospect that, within two or three years, houses will be built with small masts in their attics.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office reconsider the Government's proposed solution? They have suggested a voluntary code, but that is not the best way forward. In any case, the code needs strengthening. We need a system that encourages and makes much easier the shared use of sites. We must clarify what is meant by a precautionary approach for loca1 authorities; that information needs to be built into the planning system. What do the Government mean by the "next stage" of health concerns? What will the Stewart committee investigate? When will it report? Finally, I hope that the voluntary code will exist for a trial period only and that if the industry fails to abide by it, the Government will consider tougher legislation.
My second issue concerns local authorities' general planning and enforcement powers. I am sure that many hon. Members have concerns about local authorities' inability to take action if a business has been set up, or if someone has built on a piece of green land. The law is very weak in that area. Some individuals challenge court rulings. Others drag such issues out for many years.
In Swanmore, a village in my constituency, a saga has been going on since 1985. There have been several city council rejections of an application to convert a poultry house to residential use. There have been county court rulings against that application, and twice the Secretary of State has rejected the application, but the developers are still there, many years afterwards.
I hope that the Government will review local authorities' powers, but I understand that they have no plans to do so. They believe that those powers are strong enough already. I consider that many hon. Members would regard that stance as weak. Local authorities' powers should be greatly strengthened, because individuals who simply ignore court orders are running rings around them.
My final point relates to the problems involved in compulsory purchase and planning. Greater clarity is needed from the Government. I have in my constituency a new town called Whiteley, a lovely town. A commitment was made to build a road into the town, called Whiteley way. Everyone made contributions to that end, and it was assumed that the land could be bought for agricultural prices—about £600,000. There was then a judgment, the Kent County Council v. Bachelor judgment, which said that the owner of a crucial piece of land that needed to be built on could hold it for a ransom fee. As a result, that land is not now valued at agricultural prices but is worth millions of pounds. That makes it virtually impossible for the local authority to proceed and build a necessary road, which was promised to people in the area.
The Government committed themselves to a review of compulsory purchase and the cost of compensation. I understand that that review recommended that new legislation be introduced very soon to clarify the issue. To date, nothing has happened. I hope that the Minister can respond on that point.
I have been brief to allow others to contribute. I hope that if the Minister cannot refer to these issues in his winding-up speech, he will give me a commitment to allow me to come back to him on all of them.
I shall be as brief as I can, but that is not to lessen the importance of the issue that I raise, which is the murder of my constituent, Mr. Shiblu Rahman, who was stabbed many times in east London in the early hours of 1 April 2001. He leaves a widow and two young daughters. The Metropolitan police are treating the murder as a racist attack.
I wish to commend all those people, especially on the Lincoln estate, who have assisted the police with their inquiries, representing the whole community of east London. I wish also to express appreciation to the authorities for their sensitivity in handling the family's needs. Visas were provided for family members from Bangladesh. The local authority, the London borough of Tower Hamlets, considered the rehousing needs of the widow and her children. Support was also given by other authorities.
I wish to register on behalf of the family a number of concerns. I have already written to Chief Superintendent Rose Fitzpatrick—no relation—who is commander of the Metropolitan police in Tower Hamlets, who have good communications with the family. Indeed, the local commander, Mr. Smith, met the family yesterday and a liaison officer was appointed very early on. I have also written to the chief executive of the London ambulance service, who has responded by fax today, advising me that he will respond to the issues that I have raised with him, hopefully tomorrow.
The family have many concerns. Some have been addressed by the Metropolitan police, but others require answers. The meeting between the Metropolitan police and the family yesterday has resulted in the Met promising a full response within three weeks to a number of the issues raised, such as why no family members were allowed into the flat that Mr. Rahman managed to reach before he was transported to hospital, to assist in translating and taking evidence, and the fact that Mr. Rahman was not taken to hospital by the police or family members before the ambulance arrived.
The family's other main concerns include the time that the ambulance took to arrive, which was estimated at between 31 minutes and an hour, depending on different accounts; that no family member was allowed to travel with Mr. Rahman in the ambulance to the Royal London hospital; and, of course—finally and most importantly—whether earlier arrival at the hospital might have saved Mr. Rahman's life. They are reasonable, but angry questions from a very distressed and close family.
As I said earlier, Mr. Rahman, who was only 34, leaves a widow and two very young children. Those responsible need to be caught and prosecuted, and justice, as ever, not only needs to be done, but be seen to be done. The questions that I have asked must be answered. Clearly, from the evidence that I have received, the police have learned lessons from the Macpherson inquiry, but there are still issues to be addressed, and the London ambulance service has to address the serious questions that it has been asked. I know that the House will condemn the murder of my constituent, Mr. Shiblu Rahman—a decent, ordinary, working member of our community. We certainly collectively condemn racism and expect the best and most sensitive treatment of his dependants.
I raise this matter to express my condolences to the family, to reassure them that their concerns will be addressed, to put down a marker that the serious questions that they have asked must be answered to their satisfaction and to give notice that I will naturally seek a full Adjournment debate at the appropriate time further and fully to examine the serious issues that have been raised by this heinous crime and to ensure that the safety of all my constituents is foremost in Poplar and Canning Town.
There is increasing frustration and anger among perceptive commentators about the manner in which the Government are treating Parliament, and the situation this afternoon is indicative of that. First, the Prime Minister defers the local elections theoretically to concentrate on foot and mouth disease, and then the Government announce an extremely long Adjournment at Easter in a week when five separate programme motions—or guillotines—have been tabled for five separate measures. The truth is that the Government do not really think that Parliament has a role in a crisis.
I was talking to a Cabinet Minister in a corridor last week. I congratulated him on the fact that he had been in the Chamber briefly when one of his junior Ministers was taking some business through the House and said that it was a pity that Cabinet Ministers could not spend more time in the Chamber, to which the Cabinet Minister replied, "I can't sit in there; we've got a country to run." How different from what happened under the Government formed by Mrs. Thatcher—as she then was—when the Falkland islands were invaded and it was decided that Parliament should sit on a Saturday to debate the issue.
This Government's attitude seems to be that if hon. Members sit back and allow the Government to get on with their business, they will run the country and get it right. I want to raise an issue that the Government have not got right. If the Government were to listen to Parliament and if Parliament were available for the next week or so, it would provide a better opportunity for hon. Members to debate the issue.
I heard with disbelief yesterday that it was intended to bury the carcases of slaughtered animals at Romsey in Hampshire. Hampshire is not affected by foot and mouth disease, and the last thing that local people want is their county to be infected with it. Clearly, if carcases are to be brought into the county and buried at Romsey, there must be such a risk, however detailed the arrangements to stop the infection spreading.
Immediately on arriving at the House, I went to the Table Office and asked to table a question for priority answer. I was told that, as the House was rising today, the earliest date on which my priority question could be answered was 23 April. So I have to wait all that time to find out whether animals are to be buried in Hampshire. I then went to my office and discovered that the Minister for the Environment had written a letter to the chief executives of the local authorities on Wednesday 4 April, but that it was not sent to hon. Members until 6 April—a Friday, which all my hon. Friends know is the day on which Ministers publish answers that they do not really want people to read. Although the information was available on 4 April that the Environment Agency intended Squad wood, Salisbury road, Romsey to be an approved licensed landfill site to be used for burying carcases, Members were not told until the Friday of that week, and received the letter on the following Monday.
There have been developments. Hampshire county council has of course taken the matter up with the Environment Agency. The company in question has objected to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and been given a verbal assurance that the Romsey site will probably not be used. The Environment Agency says that it is "highly unlikely" that it will be used, at least in the short term. If it is used at all, it will be for local animals and every carcase will come in an individual body bag, disinfected and with all precautions taken.
There has been a huge number of calls from people in Hampshire expressing absolute disbelief that Romsey is to be used for the burial of carcases. It is appalling that the county council, despite having done all it can, has no influence to stop that. If the Government say, by diktat, that the site is to be used, it will be used. On behalf of the people of Hampshire, I ask for the same assurance that was given to the people of West Sussex, where county council leaders have been told that the disposal of carcases in landfill sites in the county will cease immediately and that there will be no further disposal without consultation.
Will the Government give an assurance, through the Parliamentary Secretary, that the notice from the Minister for the Environment will be withdrawn, and that there will be no further imposition of carcases on landfill sites in Hampshire until there has been further discussion?
I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise the issue of coal health compensation on behalf of the retired miners in my constituency and elsewhere. My constituency had a great tradition of coal mining, as did the north-east as a whole, before the previous Government got their hands on it and destroyed what had been a great industry.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe on the determination that he has shown. He has demonstrated that he will succeed in getting compensation for the miners. I praise the Government for their attitude to the matter. They are responding to the miners' claim for justice, which the Tory Government and British Coal resisted for years. In January 1996, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) asked the Tory Minister to introduce a miners' compensation scheme, only to be told that their health problems were due mainly to smoking.
As we know, this compensation claim is the biggest in British history, with more than 142,000 claimants. I was proud when the Labour Government accepted it without question and made billions of pounds available to the miners who had done so much service for British industry. By taking the workers' side for once, a Government have turned industrial relations around. We remember how the previous Government treated the miners, and the miners will never forget it.
In my constituency, 499 miners with respiratory diseases have made claims. Sadly, 13 of them died before they could receive their entitlement and only 87 have received full settlements up to now. That is a success rate of less than 20 per cent., which is unacceptable. We are talking not about statistics but about real people who want their entitlement to make life easier for themselves and their families.
I have contact with almost 100 of those miners when I meet them in my surgery or at the local shops. When they talk to me in that wheezing tone, it breaks my heart to see how the health of men who were once big, strong and fit has been affected to such an extent that normal life is impossible for them. That is why I support the campaign instigated by my local newspaper, the South Shields Gazette, and its editor, Rob Lawson, to get an additional testing centre based in south Tyneside.
In discussions with Ministers and their officials earlier today, I discovered that there are a total of 10,290 live claimants in the north-east. Almost 80 per cent. have had the appropriate tests at the centres in Newcastle and Durham. The Government have provided a domiciliary service to test housebound miners in their homes. We can therefore conclude that the vast majority of miners have passed through the first gateway. However, a testing centre in south Tyneside would be convenient for the small number who are left and their families.
The campaign has the support of my predecessor, my noble Friend Lord Dixon of Jarrow and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). We have already met my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe and we were delighted with his response. He said that resources were not a problem in ensuring that miners received what they were entitled to. There were no budgetary constraints and money was not an issue, so the possibility of establishing an additional testing centre would be investigated.
However, the real problems with the scheme are the legal complexities and the lack of respiratory specialists. Legal problems are holding up the claims and, after a lifetime in the pits, that is not what miners want to hear. With their lives destroyed, they have to wait for payments while lawyers argue. Each time the Government try to speed up or improve the process, both sets of lawyers must agree. Hundreds of millions of pounds must be going in fees to lawyers while more miners die every day.
Is it not nonsense that miners who have already been diagnosed with bronchitis and emphysema have to go through another medical to satisfy the lawyers? Those miners have already been diagnosed and been awarded the industrial injuries benefit, but they have to wait in a queue. We all know that that is part of a court judgment, but the dying men in my constituency do not want to listen to court judgments. Why cannot the lawyers accept existing medical records, as they do for deceased claimants?
The shortage of respiratory specialists is another major problem that is delaying full settlements. I applaud the actions of my hon. Friend the Minister in ensuring that the oldest and most ill are given priority. I know that the younger and fitter miners in my constituency who find that their appointments have been rescheduled will agree that the older men who cannot breathe should go first. I would also like to appeal to specialists—whether they are retired, working in the private sector or in the NHS—to come forward to give extra of their time to a great cause.
The Government's efforts are there to be seen. They have tried to recruit more specialists, given priority to the sickest and oldest miners, given widows special priority payments, offered domiciliary procedure for the housebound and IRISC, the Government's insurer, is employing 340 people to deal with the cases. That means that more than 1,000 people are being processed each week. In the north-east, more than £77 million has been paid out and, over the next six months, an acceleration in the process means that an additional £68 million will be paid out.
The Tories will never be forgiven for destroying a great industry and we should never forget the debt that we owe to the miners and to the widows who nursed them at home when they were sick. They deserve justice and the Labour Government are determined that they will receive it.
Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, I wish to raise a number of quick points.
The first is about housing stock transfer. The Labour Government encouraged Southend to run a ballot on its 7,000 properties, and that ballot took place a week ago. Some 68 per cent. of those eligible voted and 49.2 per cent. voted for and 50.8 per cent. voted against. When the ballot was set up, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party controlled the council and it seems that certain elements have undermined the ballot by talking about fat cats and the rest of it. Unfortunately, the result of the ballot has left Southend council tax payers in a difficult position. People will be made redundant and the £59 million that was available to refurbish the housing stock appears to have gone by the by.
My second point is about the exclusion of pupils from schools. It is extraordinary that the Government set targets for the number of youngsters who are excluded from school without having set up any alternatives as to how we educate those young people. The most shocking aspect concerns circular 10/99. As a result of the circular, young people can bring drugs to schools. The headmaster might expel them but, if the young children have not sold the drugs, but just passed them on, parents can appeal against the expulsion and the youngsters can be reinstated. I will not name names, but two pupils in two different schools have been reinstated, which has completely undermined the authority of the headmasters involved. The leader of the secondary heads union in Essex recently wrote to hon. Members who represent that county's constituencies about the shortage of teachers and the pressures that they are under. Is it any wonder when one considers the undermining effect of circular 10/99?
On the police issue, time after time, Southend puts in bids for closed circuit television which are not approved because they are not of good enough quality. I want to know what we have to do to produce an acceptable bid. The chief constable tells me, "It doesn't matter, David, that there aren't as many police as there used to be since we have had this Labour Government because we've got the new technology to try and catch the criminals." However, for whatever reason, we have not been successful in those bids. The latest wheeze is that police officer numbers are being increased by Home Office recommendations which say that if no places are available at training colleges, officers will work out their five weeks at police stations. That will happen in Southend and they are included in police numbers.
As for the Palace theatre in Southend, I was delighted when it reopened because it is marvellous. But here we go again—our request for a grant was turned down. For some reason, the Eastern arts board does not understand the quality of the wonderful productions that take place there.
Finally, on transport, there have been many complaints about the local Arriva bus services, with which there are problems. The company has cut services and increased prices, and the low-rise buses are no longer available. I am also concerned about the c2c rail service. When the Conservative Government decided to reorganise British Rail, I was delighted that the Fenchurch Street service was going to have new rolling stock. Unfortunately, under the Labour Government new rolling stock has been delivered which cannot be used. I hope that Ministers will do something about transport and other problems in Southend because we do not recognise the rosy picture painted by the hon. Member for Telford (Mr. Grocott).
I want briefly to acknowledge the important contribution that the Government have made to improving not only the levels of employment in this country, but the quality of the terms and conditions of service. I also want to mention an issue that I hope the Labour Government will tackle after the next election.
Bristol, West has never registered as a deprived constituency, but unemployment has been a significant factor for many years in some areas. During the past four years, unemployment has fallen by 45 per cent. More importantly, thanks to the new deal, the number of 18 to 24-year-olds who claim benefit for more than six months has fallen by 87 per cent. It is good to know that in my constituency and throughout the country, more young adults are beginning to achieve. Doors are opening for them when previously they had been slammed shut and they are beginning to direct their own lives. Those successes are a huge plus for this Labour Government.
The Government's achievements, however, are about much more than the unemployment level. They have introduced the national minimum wage. That especially affects women and has been increased to £4.10. They have also introduced four weeks' paid holiday, equal rights that are proportionate for part-time workers, an extension of maternity leave to 18 weeks and parental leave of three months within the first five years of parenthood. In addition, they have restored trade union rights—especially at GCHQ—if there are 21 or more staff and the majority wish it. The much tougher approach to health and safety has reduced accidents at work.
The Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 and the commission have been added to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Acts and the Race Relations Acts. "Yes," we might say, "that is huge step forward. What more do we want?" People come to my constituency surgeries who are concerned, not just about fairness at work, but dignity at work. If hon. Members think they have heard that phrase before, they are right. Legislation was originally introduced in the House of Lords in December 1996 by Lord Monkswell to tackle the extremely important issue of bullying at work which, unfortunately, we have been unable to address in this Parliament.
Legislation on fairness goes a long way, but people are still coming to my surgery who have been sidelined and overruled. Inexplicably, their contracts have not been renewed, they have been passed over for promotion and, puzzlingly, they have been proposed for redundancy. That is not just a bad day at the office; people's careers have been stunted, their personal lives turned upside down and, worse, they have suffered prolonged periods of physical and mental illness. Bullying, which we often associate only with school, is still, sadly, prevalent in the workplace. The trade unions were stringent in taking that up years ago; between 14 and 53 per cent. of people interviewed recognised that they had been bullied. The Trades Union Congress launched a campaign in October 1998; in 1995, the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union contacted 140,000 people in a survey and found that 30 per cent. of those interviewed considered bullying to be a significant problem. I want to pay special tribute to Chris Ball, an MSF officer, for the work that he has done, and continues to do, in promoting that area among his members and the wider work force.
The Dignity at Work Bill was introduced and completed its passage through the House of Lords. It was introduced in the House of Commons by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) then, sadly, received no further attention. However, amendments were tabled in Committee, and the measure provides the basis for an important new Bill. Following amendment in the Lords and in Committee, the Dignity at Work Bill stated that employees had their right to dignity at work breached if they experienced
behaviour on more than one occasion which is offensive, abusive, malicious, insulting or intimidating
unjustified criticism or more than one occasion".
That right was also breached if punishment was
imposed without reasonable justification
changes in the duties or responsibilities of the employee to the employee's detriment
were inflicted without reasonable justification.
I am sure that my constituents welcome the work that the Government have already done but, certainly on the basis of casework that I am dealing with in my surgery, they look to the next Labour Government to introduce a dignity at work Bill.
As is traditional, the majority of Members who have contributed to today's debate have raised a wide variety of matters to do with their constituencies. Some contributions have concerned genuine life-and-death matters, and the House listened with concern to individual cases with which Members are dealing. Those cases could not have been heard by a more responsive member of the Government, and I know that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will certainly follow them through.
During the Christmas Adjournment debate, I recall awarding my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) the prize for the most innovative contribution. He packed in a lot today, and I am at a loss to understand why his constituency—which, I am sure, is most deserving—fails to attract bids for closed circuit television, let alone its excellent theatre. I can only urge him to keep trying; I am sure that he can think of something.
The hon. Members for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), for Telford (Mr. Grocott), for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) and for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) all made speeches that related to their constituencies.
The speech of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) was fascinating, particularly as it included visual aids. I am reminded of the poem by my namesake about the problem with rats. It occurred to me that if the hon. Lady arranged for them to be rounded up and brought here, they might make some friends. [Interruption.] I was thinking of Portcullis House and not of Members on these Benches.
The situation that the hon. Lady described sounds terrible. I was tempted to suggest that the rats should be trapped, but I realised that the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who has left to participate in his wedding anniversary celebrations, might not have approved. None the less, the hon. Lady's speech was very interesting. She takes the prize this time for the most innovative contribution to our debate.
The right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) also raised a local matter. Although I am sure that it was not his swan-song in this Chamber, we realise that time is running out and that perhaps we shall not be able to hear him speak all that frequently in future. We wish him well with his constituency problem and in his future elsewhere.
The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) also raised very important issues; he always takes the opportunity of these debates to raise matters of great importance. The emergency that he described was of great concern. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will have listened very carefully to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) raised the question of masts and went on to address planning matters. I have total sympathy with him on the latter point, as I have a similar problem in my constituency with excessive housebuilding on greenfield sites—yet again with the approval of the Liberal Democrat party.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) made a thoughtful contribution to the debate. He described a very sad constituency case and went on to deal with matters to do with young people and how this House should address the challenges of making policy on them. He has also announced that he will retire at the election. We shall certainly miss speeches such as that he gave this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) raised two very sad and tragic cases. The hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) also raised local issues, as did the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn). I will not be drawn into a party political response to the hon. Member for Jarrow, although I remind him in respect of his comments about the Conservative Government that the Labour Government are taking the matter forward only because there has been a High Court judgment. The hon. Gentleman will know that High Court judgments must be applied, whichever party is in power. We welcome the fact that the Labour Government are taking the matter forward, but it is not of their own volition. The matter was tested first in the High Court. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows the background to that as well as I do.
Other hon. Members raised matters concerning important issues outside these shores. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) began the debate by addressing the difficult and on-going problems of Cyprus, about which I know he has much knowledge, which he wanted to share with the House again today. The hon. Member for West Ham, who, unfortunately, is not in his place, raised the way in which Canadian seals are culled. I know that that subject is close to his heart. The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) raised the tragic situation surrounding the earthquake in Gujarat, which clearly affects many of his constituents.
Conservative Members raised matters to do with foot and mouth, which is hardly surprising. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned that not just people living in the countryside are very concerned about the tragedy and crisis that have struck us. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) on the subject, in which I know he is well versed.
From the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), we sensed their frustration about getting answers in time, which many of us have shared in the past few weeks. When there is a crisis of any kind, the relevant Government Department is besieged with dozens of letters and questions. My hon. Friends made it clear that if, in a crisis such as the present one, Members of Parliament cannot get answers and our intervention in individual cases in our constituencies are not dealt with in 24 or 48 hours, there may be dramatic consequences. Cattle may be slaughtered unnecessarily. Sheer frustration has been the hallmark of the past few weeks for Members of Parliament who wanted quick answers to pressing and urgent matters.
No. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I have only 10 minutes and it is not customary to give way in winding-up speeches such as this.
In his initial comments, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) spoke of the changes to our procedures that are taking place in the House, which deny hon. Members the opportunity properly to debate, question and scrutinise the proceedings of the House. As shadow Leader of the House, I have made known my own concerns about that. My hon. Friend went on to speak of foot and mouth, the disposal of carcases into landfill and his frustration at not being able to use normal procedures in the House, and the frustration outside at the failure to get answers to a problem there. Unfortunately, we were not able to hear contributions from all those who wished to speak, which is a mark of the interest of hon. Members in such debates. If, by chance, there is to be a general election on 7 June, there are still matters related to foot and mouth and other subjects in their constituencies that hon. Members will want to discuss in the few weeks remaining after the House returns on 23 April. On behalf of the official Opposition, I make a request through Madam Deputy Speaker for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box to respond, and for bids from hon. Members for Adjournment debates to be favourably received during those few weeks. I know that many hon. Members would not want to go from this place into an election without receiving answers to serious issues such as those that have been raised in all parts of the House today.
We had 21 speakers from the Back Benches and I, too, am disappointed that not every hon. Member who wished to speak in the debate had the opportunity to do so. A large number of points have been made and it will not be possible for me to deal with them all this evening, but I give an undertaking that I will draw them to the attention of Ministers and try to get written responses to the many questions that have been asked.
It has been speculated that this might be the last Adjournment debate before the general election. I know nothing of that and nothing of timetables, but we had the opportunity to hear what may be a last speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Mr. Grocott), from the right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) who, because of other commitments, has limited opportunities to make presentations to the House, and from the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). Whatever happens, I wish them all well.
A number of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members raised individual cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) spoke of the Perrett case; my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) raised the case of Mr. Rahman; and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) raised two constituency cases. I know that my hon. Friends are all outstanding campaigners who will pursue these matters with vigour. Whatever I can do in a personal capacity to assist them, I will do. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, I believe that one of the things that we could best do in the NHS is to encourage professionals and hospital trusts to convene a meeting quickly when matters go wrong and to make an early apology. A great deal would be resolved if the professionals took that suggestion seriously. I heard what he said about involving more lay members in those procedures; again, I think that he is right.
The right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke about an issue that he has pursued for many years. He said that it was unfinished business, and I hope that we can move towards resolving it, although I point out again that arbitration and mediation would be more appropriate than legal processes. He mentioned the compensation fund, and I hope that it will be possible to get the disclosures that he seeks. He is meeting very soon the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), the Minister with responsibility for shipping, who will have the benefit of reading the comments that he made today. I shall try to ensure that his points are dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) again raised the issue of Biwater. He is, as ever, a doughty campaigner on the matter, but he is also keen to try to improve the environment in north-east Derbyshire. He asked for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, in conjunction with others, to take measures to deal with the matters to which he referred. I think that he made a strong case, and I will do what is possible to help him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) spoke movingly on a subject that is close to my heart. Indeed, it is also close to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who sits on the Whips Bench. A great deal more needs to be done to help former miners. After all, these men gave their health and, in some cases, their lives, to keep us warm. The Government are currently paying out £1 million a day in compensation, and I believe that we will eventually pay out about £4 billion. We are dealing with the largest civil case in history, and it will take three to four years to settle it, but I promise my hon. Friends the Members for Jarrow and for Islwyn that we will leave no stone unturned in trying to speed up the process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who often takes pole position in such debates, raised the issue of Cyprus, on which he is a doughty campaigner. The Government are committed to working with the United Nations to try to resolve the problems, despite all the difficulties.
My hon. Friends the Members for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) referred to the earthquake in India, which was a tragic event. Like them, I wish to join the voluntary groups and faith groups that are working hard both in this country and in India in trying to bring some humanity into what can be described only as an appalling situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green asked for all the Government's efforts to be made to resolve the problem. I give him an undertaking that we will look again to see what more might be done.
A number of planning issues were mentioned. I am keen to address them, as I share hon. Members' concerns. Housing and the erosion of the green belt are a major issue. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) recognised, the Government have made proposals to build more on brownfield land than on greenfield land. We propose that 60 per cent. of building should occur on brownfield sites. In my area in the east midlands, two out of every three new houses will be built on brownfield sites. That contrasts with the record of the previous Government, under whom one out of every three houses was built on brownfield land. We must do more to work on brownfield sites and to adopt a sequential approach. As he rightly said, the reclaimed land in his area should be developed first, before there is erosion into greenfield land and into the green belt. That is the Government's intention.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned telecommunications masts, on which he was supported by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) I remind both hon. Gentlemen that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning gave an indication only last month of the new regulations that the Government intend to introduce. It is important that masts of under 15 m in height are part of the planning regime. It also important that we adopt a precautionary approach and that more money is spent on research. After the work of the Stewart committee, an extra £7 million has been spent on research. I acknowledge that there are difficulties in this area. We all want the benefits of telecommunications, but the downside is sometimes difficult to anticipate and perhaps we should have a more strategic approach to the matter.
The hon. Member for Winchester also mentioned the vexed issue of enforcement powers for local councils. I think that he has a point. There is real problem when villains play the planning system, and I hope that we can do more. The hon. Gentleman also talked about compulsory purchase and said that not a lot had been done. There has been a major consultation exercise and a working party, and the Government have asked the Law Commission to consider the issue with the aim of bringing forward legislation as soon as possible.
Not surprisingly, many hon. Members referred to the foot and mouth outbreak. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) spoke movingly about the real problems in Oxfordshire. He clearly knows the problems, and I hope that, in areas such as his where there has been one outbreak and where the infection now seems to be under control, we shall be able to lift the restrictions. The hon. Gentleman or one of his hon. Friends said that it is easy to impose restrictions but that it is often more difficult to lift them, and we now need to try to move forward.
I was delighted with the comments made by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) about foot and mouth being an urban and a rural problem. He is right. The issue affects small and big businesses, and those who try to divide town and country communities on the issue are being short-sighted
The hon Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) rightly said that import control was a major issue, and I agree. There are strict laws and regulations and severe fines, but we must ensure that we have the resources to implement them. We need more Customs and Excise officers. We are acting on that, but the hon. Gentleman is right to ask us to do more.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is no longer with us; he has gone to have fun and frolics with his wife. He entertained us before that, but I shall save time for his comments later.
The hon. Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made slightly different points, but let me chastise them. The Conservative party has called for landfill to be used for the disposal of carcases. Their party wants a quick solution to the problem and believes that landfill should be used. The Environment Agency and others have been consulted. It may well be the case that some sites, as the hon. Member for Gosport clearly recognises, have been approved but will not be used, but it will be important that all of us, from whatever part of the country, play our part in sorting out the problem. The hon. Member for Teignbridge asked for his letter, but the Minister is in Sweden. I promise him a reply soon.
Several hon. Members have talked about achievement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) talked about unemployment falling and the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent talked movingly about the importance of commending young people. Let me commend him on his work with the UK Youth Parliament. We should commend success, not criticise failure quite so much.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) talked about the East Ravendale school, and we await some success there. Outside toilets are disappearing all over the country, as are mobile classrooms. I am pleased that the Minister for School Standards has now joined us because she is to make a major speech during the Easter recess on further capital investment in our schools. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes well.
The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet talked about the need for extra investment in the NHS and the police, and he fairly recognised that it was beginning to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Telford talked about what has happened in his community under Labour, and I was struck with the 50th anniversary of the NHS in Lichfield.
We now need to go forward, to invest in public services and in a vision of the future. We shall do that.