Adjournment (Whitsun)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 24th May 2002.

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Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall 12:46 pm, 24th May 2002

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. At the outset, I thought that we would not have our three principal usual suspects with us. Mr. Cox usually talks about Cyprus, so I am glad that another Member managed to discuss that subject. In every previous such debate, Mr. Viggers has discussed Royal Hospital Haslar. As he is not here, I can only assume that something good has happened there. I hope so. I thought that we would be denied the usual diatribe from Mr. Amess, who always speaks eloquently on behalf of his constituents, but I saw him slip in a few minutes ago. I am not sure whether I was more disappointed when he was not here or when he arrived, because that might delay lunch even further. I am delighted to see him, and I am sure that he will contribute immensely.

Traditionally, this debate proposes that we should not adjourn. Significantly, however, although all hon. Members' contributions were extremely interesting and thoughtful, none suggested that we should not adjourn. I am not sure whether that means that the recess is now so attractive to Members that they feel that they can get their burdens off their chests before departing, but still depart in good conscience. It is an interesting change of attitude.

Although only a few of us are here, it is an important part of Parliament's job to raise such issues. That goes right back to the origins of this honourable House. In mediaeval times, we came here with petitions on behalf of our constituents. On the night before last, the Leader of the House gave an interesting lecture to the Hansard Society in which he referred to some of the roles of this House that are as important as its scrutiny of legislation and of executive action by the Administration of the day. Although it is disappointing that not as many hon. Members are here today as on previous such occasions, their contributions have been very interesting in their variety and the extent to which they raised constituency, and wider, concerns. The House has been doing its proper job.

Mr. Coleman spoke about the housing crisis. The subject has been much debated on the Floor of the House since the last war and its immediate aftermath, when people thought that they had solved the problem. I recall that my first maiden speech was principally about housing in a rural area. The hon. Gentleman obviously spoke about the London situation. The housing shortage is an issue that successive Governments have failed to deal with. That relates to the issue of imposing development targets on different parts of the country.

I was struck by another recurring theme in our debate today: our dependence as a society on the work of volunteers. Bob Spink referred to that in relation to youth facilities. Not only facilities but the leadership of youth organisations is important. Perhaps that relates to the contribution of Mr. Hayes. People contribute a huge amount to the local community through voluntary work and we depend on them greatly.

The hon. Member for Castle Point also referred to Southend hospital—that was before the hon. Member for Southend, West arrived. At least his subject was here even if he was not physically present.

Mr. Thomas made an extremely important point about the need to reform consumer credit legislation. It is an undoubted and sad fact that loan sharks are with us. It has been said that the poor are always with us. While the poor are with us, so are the loan sharks who prey on them.

The hon. Gentleman made another important point about the way in which all forms of voluntary organisations that come within the province of the industrial provident societies are in considerable difficulty because of registration charges. That includes women's institutes, of which I am a devoted follower, if not an eligible member. Registration charges have increased tenfold. That has proved difficult for voluntary organisations.

My hon. Friend Mr. Carmichael talked about the specific and worrying circumstances of his constituents who still live with the consequences of the motor tanker Braer disaster nine years ago. He also made an important point about a more general issue: the causal link that victims of natural and human disasters have to establish before having a reasonable claim to compensation.

As hon. Members may know, I have led a small group in the House that is worried about organophosphates and their devastating effects on many people, but especially sheep farmers. Throughout my time in the House, I have also been worried about the impact on my constituents of the notorious Lowermoor water poisoning incident in 1988. I pay tribute to the Minister for the Environment, who has played a leading role in trying to deal with the problem. In both cases, the law has let people down because the victim has had to establish a direct link between the incident and his or her illness. That is a great indictment of our legal system. The victim is in such a difficult situation and often up against huge organisations. That makes it extremely unlikely that natural justice will prevail.

Ms Drown always presents a portmanteau of subjects in such debates and it is difficult to know which to comment on. I shall choose two. Her point about the national health service and the need for decentralisation should be applied more generally. We should not simply pick and choose those who happen to be doing well and say, "You can now take more responsibility." We have a huge problem in this country that especially affects public services. We have allowed ourselves to become far more centralised than other European and developed countries, and the health service is a classic example of that. There comes a point when the sheer scale of the operation is difficult for any human being to manage. The hon. Lady is right: we must ensure more effective decentralisation in services, especially the health service.

I also agree with the hon. Member for South Swindon about wind farms, of which there are three in my constituency. I do not claim that they are all popular, but we recognise that we are making a contribution to renewable energy. I have no doubt that there will be more wind farms in Cornwall. The one place where they would not be expected to cause additional damage to the local landscape is Ministry of Defence land. The hon. Lady was absolutely right to say that the MOD must be called to account and required to explain its attitude. It is not mirrored in any other European or NATO country, so I cannot believe that restrictions on national defence have anything to do with it.