It is a pleasure to address the House with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, as some of the matters that I shall raise relate to an area that you know well in north-east Wales, as you come from the constituency next door to mine. In a week in which there has been some discussion of the report from Lord Richard—known commonly as the Richard commission report—I shall take the opportunity to raise matters that are of concern not just in Wales, but in the House about the responsibilities of Members of the House and the way in which the United Kingdom is governed.
Devolution has had a huge and, in my view, beneficial effect on Wales. As a native of north-east England, when I first moved to Wrexham way back in 1986, it was difficult at times to know that one was in Wales. I moved just across the border seven years later—
There are problems in the health service in Wales, which are familiar. They are deep-seated and reflect the poorer state of health of people in Wales, which is of long-standing. The problems in the health service in Wales predate devolution. The structures for dealing with the problems of the health service in Wales differ from the structures in England. One of the benefits of devolution is that we have different systems operating in England and Wales, but where there are examples of better systems working more successfully in England, we must not be afraid of copying them in Wales.
I wanted to reflect on the changes that devolution has made in Wales. There was a surge in the national identity of Wales following the introduction of devolution—an expression of identity that added hugely to the positive feel in the country. It has influenced my views on regional devolution in England. I am from north-east England, which has a strong regional identity that would be greatly complemented by the introduction of a regional assembly. I hope that it will be one of the first areas to have its own assembly following the vote later this year.
Devolution has brought material benefits. It has corresponded with a huge decline in unemployment in my constituency, which is well under 3 per cent. now, compared with a high of 20 per cent. way back in 1983. Unemployment in my constituency has halved since 1997. Devolution and the work of organisations such as the Welsh Development Agency in promoting Wales are an effective way of bringing investment to Wales. I recall an advertisement that I saw on a British Airways flight recently that promoted Wales as a good place for investment and the identity of Wales. That was reflected in my constituency by Sharp Manufacturing announcing only last year that its European base for the production of photovoltaic cells for the European market was to be in Wrexham, in competition with possible sites in Spain, Germany and France. Material benefits have resulted from devolution.
One complication that may be peculiar to my area, the north-east of Wales, is the effect of devolution on the delivery of public services to my constituents. That is the topic on which I shall concentrate. Wales has distinct regions, one of which is north-east Wales, which has a peculiarly close connection with north-west England. The example that I often cite is the Welsh edition of the Daily Post, which is read throughout north Wales and whose back pages carry news about Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United, matters of some interest to my constituents. Meanwhile, The Western Mail, which describes itself as the national newspaper for Wales but is rarely read in my constituency other than by politicians, concentrates on rugby on its back pages, which is of less interest in my constituency than perhaps it is in south Wales. That reflects the different perspectives of my constituents.
Service delivery in my area perhaps reflects the close links between north-east Wales and north-west England. Telephone exchanges in England serve my constituents in Wrexham, some of my constituents attend school in England and many students from my area attend universities throughout the United Kingdom. Many of the specialist medical services that are delivered to my constituents are delivered from England and include vital services such as children's services, cancer services and orthopaedic services. Doctors who work in my constituency are commonly employed on joint contracts with hospitals in England.
I raise these issues in this House and with Ministers from the National Assembly for Wales, but the complications that can be caused by that situation are not always fully appreciated. As a result of devolution, some of my constituents sit in a hospital waiting room next to patients from England to see the same doctor for the same condition, but are told that they must wait longer for treatment than if they were from England. It is equally true that I pay less for prescriptions than my colleagues from England and that patients from Wales will pay nothing for prescriptions by 2007.
The Government do not fully appreciate the position on the ground, and that was certainly reflected by my experience of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003, which introduced foundation hospitals in England, while the National Assembly for Wales decided that it did not wish to introduce them in Wales. But it was not fully appreciated at the time in either London or Cardiff that one English hospital, the Countess of Chester hospital, which was in the first wave of hospitals to apply for foundation trust status, which it has since secured, serves not only patients in Cheshire and across north-west England, but my constituents in Wrexham and Flintshire. As patients are entitled to be represented on the board of foundation hospitals, one would expect patients from Wrexham and Flintshire to be so represented, but the Bill, as originally drafted, allowed only patients from England to be represented.
That was clearly wrong, so I worked with my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) to secure an amendment to the Bill to allow patients from Wales to be represented on the board of foundation hospitals. To their credit, the Westminster Government and the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff agreed to the amendment and the Act now protects the interests of patients from Wales.
That example is important because it reflects the role of MPs from Wales in this House, but it also shows that neither the Welsh Assembly nor Westminster fully understood how services were being delivered in north-east Wales. For Westminster and for Cardiff, England and Wales were entirely distinct and could be dealt with entirely separately, but that is not the reality.
In my pragmatic view, politics is about dealing with reality. In that case, neither Government understood that health services in north-east Wales are delivered from England and Wales and cannot be disentangled, and that is true of England and Wales generally. They are distinct countries, but irrevocably linked.
The strength of the current devolution settlement is that it reflects that reality. Devolution works best when it reflects the position on the ground, and it works worst when it seeks to foster difference for its own sake. Only yesterday, in the debate on the Higher Education Bill, my hon. Friend Mr. Jones raised the effect of that Bill on Wales. There are still substantial difficulties in the way in which the Bill will affect higher education for my constituents.
In my constituency, the North East Wales institute of higher education, an excellent institution that works hard to attract students from poorer backgrounds, takes around 60 per cent. of its students from Wales and 40 per cent. from England. From 2006, when the Bill becomes law, that institution will not be able to charge students top-up fees, unlike higher education institutions in England. The result will be twofold. First, it will be necessary for the National Assembly to make up the shortfall in income for the cohort of students commencing in 2006 for, I believe, a full three years. Secondly, it will be much cheaper for English students to study in Wales than in England because they will not pay top-up fees in Wales. As in the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act, that policy is not a real and practical one reflecting the long-established and important freedom of students to study wherever they wish in the UK.
Because I want the devolution settlement to work, I want the Assembly in Cardiff and the Westminster Parliament to work closer together. There needs to be input from Westminster because policy in Wales is affected by what happens in England. The Higher Education Bill is a classic example of that. But there also needs to be input from Cardiff bay, because education policy needs to be integrated into the more general thrust of policy in Wales. There are very different developments in education in the secondary sector in Wales, including the Welsh baccalaureate, which reflect the different make-up and needs of the Welsh economy and some of the past deficiencies of secondary education in Wales.
In an effort to try to develop that integration further, for the past two years I have been suggesting that Westminster Members of Parliament and Assembly Members need to work together on joint committees to consider draft legislation that affects Wales. I welcome the views of the Welsh Affairs Committee on the matter, and the work that it has already done to take the proposal forward. I understand that the Presiding Officer in the National Assembly is considering the next stage.
If the Higher Education Bill and the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act had been considered at an early stage in draft by such a joint committee, some of the problems that still exist in the legislation would have been avoided. I spoke in a debate a few weeks ago on the benefits of draft legislation, to which my good hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House responded, and those benefits are especially evident in helping the devolution settlement to work better. The current settlement works very well between the Executive in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government, and the Executive here, the office of the Secretary of State for Wales, but it should be improved by developing better relations between Assembly Members and Back-Bench Members of Parliament.
The further separation of England and Wales would not help the operation of the devolution settlement, but it would hinder the delivery of services, choice and efficiency. The strongest argument for giving primary legislative powers to the Assembly would be if the Assembly wanted to do a particular thing, but could not do it without them. I still await an explanation of the particular policy that the Assembly wishes to deliver but cannot because of the current settlement. I am also yet to hear an example of a service that the National Assembly fails to deliver well because of Westminster's input. On the contrary, services are delivered better when the working relationship between Westminster and Cardiff bay is close.
Some say that the current constitutional settlement uniquely disadvantages Wales, but I see no evidence for that. It provides huge benefits for Wales, promotes Wales in a way in which it has never been promoted before and enables policy to be devised and implemented much closer to the people of Wales. The Assembly can therefore be much more responsive than Westminster, but the current settlement also reflects Wales's close links to England, which allows services to be delivered efficiently. I therefore conclude that Wales is uniquely placed within the UK, and that that is to its advantage.
One of the most difficult relationships to manage in any non-unitary state is that between central Government and nations or regions. It can lead to paralysis in Government—in Germany and Spain, for example, there is frustration that the Government cannot bring about change because of inertia. In contrast, the settlement under the Government of Wales Act 1998 is remarkably flexible. I asked the Secretary of State for Wales which functions have been transferred to the National Assembly since 1998, and his written answer states:
"The functions are too numerous to list".—[Hansard, 15 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 825W.]
Where it has been shown that functions are delivered better if they are devolved, there has been no difficulty in transferring them.
It is time to end the lazy thinking on the Assembly's powers. If there is a case for the transfer of further powers, let it be argued. If there is a case for the Assembly having primary legislative power, let us hear a positive argument saying why it should happen and what the advantages would be for the people of Wales and Wrexham. Let those who suggest that it would be better for the people of Wrexham if further separation between England and Wales took place put their case openly. Let us not have the lazy argument that the Assembly should have primary legislative powers because the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have them. Those institutions are in entirely different positions, and have different legal systems and separate statute books. A system appropriate to Scotland may not be appropriate to Wales.
If it is said that the current settlement is failing and needs to be changed, let the people of Wales be asked about the matter. The White Paper, "The Government's Proposals for a Welsh Assembly", which was published in 1997, clearly states:
"Wales will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Wales and England will continue to share a common legal system and Parliament will continue to pass new legislation for Wales."
The 1997 referendum granted that mandate, and if new laws for Wales are no longer to be made by Parliament, the people of Wales must be consulted in a referendum.
Devolution is a success story, and it can be made more successful by Cardiff bay and Westminster working more closely together. What threatens its success is the desire of some to separate that which is joined and to do so without the consent of the people of Wales. If devolution is to retain the confidence of the people of Wales, such a situation must be avoided at all costs.
I sympathise with Ian Lucas in that I, too, represent border country—in my case, the border is between Celtic Cornwall and England, and I agree that problems arise.
This afternoon, I want to raise issues that will concern all hon. Members, rather than raising parochial issues. For some years now, as a member of the Royal British Legion Gulf war group, I have raised concerns on behalf of service families in a series of debates in this House. A number of my immediate family have been regulars in the armed forces, but I must say that I have only recently become aware of the extraordinary disparity between, on the one hand, the commitment of those who serve us, and their families, and, on the other, the often complacent and cavalier attitude of the Ministry of Defence, which has been particularly apparent since the Gulf war of 1991. The continuing serious health problems suffered by so many veterans of that conflict are still a matter of concern, and all too often the Ministry's attitude seems to have carried over into the treatment of those who have served in Iraq in the past 12 months.
We saw another example of that just a few days ago, when a research report identifying a much higher than average number of birth defects and stillborn babies among those service families was published. The Ministry rushed out a denial of the connection even before the actual results had been reported to Parliament—methinks it does protest too much.
My main concern, however, is for the families who lost loved ones in the most recent conflict. Just 12 months after the first casualties in the Iraq invasion, there are still far too many unanswered questions. In the Christmas recess debate, I set out the full detail of the extraordinary and deplorable way in which the tragic death of Sergeant Steven Roberts, from Wadebridge in my constituency, has been investigated.
Sergeant Steven Roberts was the first British fatality in Iraq, on
We all know only too well that terrible mistakes can occur in the confusion of war. Troops know that they risk injury and even death in any hostilities, but that is not the issue. What is in question is whether the Ministry fulfils even its most basic responsibilities to those who serve their country in the armed forces and their families—months of inadequate information, inadequately communicated, is a pathetic response to that self-sacrifice.
At the close of the Christmas recess debate, the Minister, who is present today, assured me that those concerns would be drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State for Defence, who would meet me, Mrs. Samantha Roberts and other members of Steven Roberts's family. That meeting took place on
"There may have been the odd person who did not get the right sized pair of boots. There may have been the odd soldier who one day did not get his lunchtime ration pack. There may have been the odd soldier who did not like his ready-to-eat meal . . . There was sufficient clothing and protective equipment in theatre to deal with a force of this size."
Only five weeks later, Major-General Robin Brims, the UK land component commander, told the same Committee:
"I was aware that we did not have the body armour—we did not think we had the body armour—where we wanted it, in all cases, so we did a major redistribution and it is very hard to do a major redistribution . . . while actually conducting an operation."
At our meeting in January with the Secretary of State, I asked him to explain that extraordinary discrepancy in the evidence given to the Committee, but answer came there none. This is not a trivial issue, as I am sure hon. Members recognise. In the case of Sergeant Roberts, it was literally a matter of life and death. It was at that point in our meeting that Samantha Roberts asked the Secretary of State who carried the responsibility for these failures—if it was not the Secretary of State, who was it? Again, answer came there none. I talked to Mrs. Roberts again this week. Apart from being asked to contribute to a review of contact practices by the MOD's personnel services unit in circumstances of bereavement, she has had no further information, or even an approach from the Ministry.
If that was an isolated example—a one-off—it might be considered very regrettable, but a tragic exception that proved an otherwise impeccable rule. Unfortunately, however, my contact with other bereaved families suggests that the pattern is all too often the same. There is initial support from the immediate team in the unit concerned—that is very good—followed by limited information, which is often misleading and always incomplete, from the Ministry of Defence, then months of total silence, or sketchy details from apparently unofficial sources which cause more confusion than certainty. When at last results of a sort emerge from the official investigation, they appear piecemeal and without any conclusive MOD verdict.
After a full 12 months, many of these families are still in the dark about what caused the loss of their loved ones and whether lessons from mistakes have been learned for the future. That would seem to be precisely the case with the families of the Sea King helicopter crews—based at RNAS Culdrose in my county of Cornwall—who died in a collision during a night flight on
"there is insufficient evidence to determine positively the cause of the accident."
There was certainly no criticism of the crews or any suggestion of pilot error. Indeed, it was implied that the problem might well have been the absence of night vision facilities, or the detailed advice that was available from air traffic control. The recommendations included the following:
"consideration should be given to fitting all embarked aircraft with a night vision capability."
After months of ineffective contact, with families pressing unsuccessfully for more details of the investigation, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Mr. Ingram, told me:
"Both aircraft had reported visual contact with each other, but apparently lost situational awareness and collided. The aircraft were responsible for their own safety at the time of the collision."—[Hansard, 29 January 2004; Vol. 417, c. 505W.]
To the parents of those brave young men, that sounded all too like an attempt to shift the blame onto the pilots.
The Minister has since amplified his explanation, but the families remain understandably frustrated by the lack of a full and final conclusion to the investigation. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives received some answers to his questions—12 months after the event—but the exact significance of the absence of night vision goggles remains a mystery. It would seem that it is another example of equipment failure. When he asked to be given a demonstration of their potential value, his request was refused. As in the case of the Roberts family, 12 months is far too long to take to get at the truth. Presumably, the memories of witnesses are beginning to fade and the trail is going cold.
Yet another example—again via my west country connection—is that of Marine Christopher Maddison, who was based at Plymouth, and whose tragic and unnecessary death on
"bad planning, unreliable communications, inadequate equipment and poor leadership."
So it is another case involving inadequate equipment. What is more, it seems that he was yet another victim of a terrible and avoidable accident—he was killed by so-called friendly fire. That leaked report spared no sensitivities in its criticism of the original investigation. It states:
"It is the Board's view that professional inadequacies, factual errors, a lack of rigorous investigation of the facts available at the time . . . were the prime causes of the production of an inaccurate set of findings."
The House may find it difficult to believe, but the Ministry has yet to release all that material to Christopher Maddison's mother. On the sad anniversary of his death earlier this week, I heard her express understandable outrage at the way in which she has been treated by the Government who sent her son to his death in Iraq.
I have cited just three examples that are known to me personally because of my west country connections. Judging from my postbag, other service families—no doubt in the constituencies of Members here today—feel equally hurt, frustrated, or even angry at the way in which they have been treated. Whatever other lessons the Ministry of Defence is learning from its recent experience of the operations in Iraq, I hope and pray that Ministers are determined to improve the way in which they treat the relatives of those who are injured or even lose their lives on our behalf and on behalf of their country.
I have some simple questions. Why do such investigations take 12 months or more? Why are families not given more regular progress reports? Why is information so often slipped out piecemeal, with no official, let alone ministerial, overview? How can the initial investigation be so inaccurate and the eventual board of inquiry so secretive? Is it not time that a high-powered unit within the MOD, directly responsible to the Secretary of State, took responsibility for regular and effective liaison with such families? Given that in so many cases the lack of appropriate equipment seems to have been a major factor, who takes responsibility for that, who takes the blame, and who is making sure that such problems do not recur?
All the service families with whom I have been in contact over the past year share one overriding concern—they want to be sure that their loved ones did not die in vain and that the Ministry that sent them to war will do everything in its power to avoid similar mistakes in future. I hope that all hon. Members agree that that is not an unreasonable expectation.
I shall be fairly brief and raise what Mr. Tyler might describe as a parochial issue: the Richard commission to examine the powers of, and electoral arrangements for, the National Assembly for Wales. In case some hon. Members are not aware of the fact, I should point out that the Richard commission was not elected. It was not accountable and, indeed, could not be removed.
I gave evidence to the commission, and it was fairly obvious that it was not only undemocratic, but incompetent. I provided it with a written submission, which I read out to it. Lord Richard then informed me that the commission would be unable to cross-examine me because it did not have prior information about what I was going to say. I found that amazing, because Members of this House cross-examine Ministers daily; Assembly Members in Cardiff cross-examine Ministers daily; and, indeed, members of my local authority cross-examine executive members of the council daily. It seems as if Lord Richard did not have the ability to carry out the act that each of us does just about every day of the year.
It was obvious from the day that the Richard commission was set up that its conclusions would merely reflect "his master's voice"—"his master" being Rhodri Morgan. I raised that matter when I addressed the commission. When I said that I could anticipate its conclusions, Lord Richard was not too happy. I said, "Well, you were appointed by Rhodri Morgan, so you reflect the views of Rhodri Morgan." He intervened quickly to say that Rhodri Morgan did not appoint the commission's members. I posed the question, "Who appointed you?" He replied, "Rhodri Morgan", to which I replied, "End of the argument." Lord Richard did not appoint all the members of the commission, because Rhodri Morgan was also involved.
When I read the Richard commission's recommendations yesterday, I was not at all surprised. As I had anticipated, its proposals reflected "his master's voice". Although I was not surprised, I thought, "What a cheek these people have got." Some of us remember, and were involved in, the campaign on whether we should have a National Assembly for Wales. I argued that we should not; I said that having such an Assembly would eventually lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, but I was told that I was talking nonsense and scaremongering. We were told that the creation of the National Assembly for Wales—or Welsh Assembly, as it is more popularly known—was necessary because Wales had become a quango state and that, increasingly, all the most important decisions were taken by quangos. We were told that the way to rectify that wrong was to create the National Assembly for Wales and to give it the power to prompt a bonfire of all those quangos.
I have studied that matter in detail, and I published a pamphlet on it a short time ago. We find that there are now more quangos than when the Assembly was established; that there are more than when the referendum took place; and that they are more powerful and have even greater influence on the politics of Wales today than when they were criticised several years ago. The bonfire of the quangos has not happened; the process has been a damp squib, because there are more quangos than before. The Assembly was supposed not only to get rid of the quangos, but to democratise Wales. The powers in the hands of the quangos were to be transferred either to a democratically elected Welsh Assembly or to local authorities. As yet, we have seen neither a bonfire of the quangos nor the democratisation of Wales. If the Assembly has not used its powers to make a bonfire of the quangos, which the electorate marginally gave it some years ago, why should we agree—this demonstrates the cheek of the Richard commission—to the demand for even more powers?
My hon. Friend Ian Lucas made the point that some people in Wales say, "We've got to have powers identical to those of the Scottish Parliament", but I have never understood that argument. I have always been in favour of devolution, but opposed to the creation of the Welsh Assembly. I often heard the argument that we are different in Wales and that that explained why we needed an institution that was different from that in Scotland. At least that was a good argument, but we have reverted to merely copying Scotland.
Decisions should be made at the most appropriate level. For example, some decisions might best be made by local authorities or the Welsh Assembly, but decision making about health in Wales is not a classic example of a subject that requires more devolution from Westminster to Cardiff—the opposite. National health service powers should revert to Westminster, because the way in which they have been used in Wales since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly is unacceptable.
I have great regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham and I agreed with 90 per cent. of his speech, but I do not agree with his point that unemployment rates now, compared with those in 1997, are an example of the Welsh Assembly's success. I do not believe that a decrease in unemployment in Wales is a result of the Welsh Assembly's contribution. If that were so, one would not expect a similar decrease in other parts of the United Kingdom, yet dramatic decreases have occurred elsewhere. Not too many years ago, I participated in demonstrations and campaigns against the fact that 3 million people were on the dole.
We are going down the slippery slope. When we held the referendum, I said, "Take it from me, before Assembly Members have the opportunity to put their bums on their seats, they will be demanding a Parliament." I was told that that was scaremongering. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and before their bums hit the seats in the Assembly building in Cardiff bay, they demanded a Parliament. If we agreed to a Parliament, they would demand even more powers. One day, we would wake up and find that Wales was separate from the rest of the United Kingdom—the nationalist dream become reality.
We were told that a Welsh Assembly would revolutionise Wales, but no reasons for that were given. It was said that the mere existence of an Assembly would be enough to bring about a revolution. In the months ahead, different parts of the Labour movement—and, I am sure, Parliament—will debate the Richard report. I was one of those whom a then Cabinet member threatened to kick out of the Labour party if I campaigned against a Welsh Assembly. I say in advance, in case history repeats itself, that if the creation of a Parliament is in our manifesto for the next general election, I shall campaign against it.
The Richard commission recommends that we should increase the number of Assembly Members from 60 to 80. Before the Assembly was set up, Parliament was responsible for all primary and secondary legislation and there were 40 Members of Parliament in Wales. The Welsh Assembly was created with 60 Members, simply to examine secondary legislation, but it is not satisfied. Should it have primary legislative powers, it wants 80 Members, even though it would not have the work load or responsibility of this Parliament.
An additional 20 Assembly Members might not go down too well with the taxpayers, but we are told not to worry because they would cost only another £10 million. Before the referendum, we were told by the yes campaign that a Welsh assembly would cost £20 million, which would be more than enough to run it, and that it would be funded through a bonfire of the quangos. Following the appointment of hundreds of additional civil servants, the cost of running the Assembly is in fact hundreds of millions of pounds.
Another recommendation arising from the Richard commission involves the possibility of a referendum. I am totally opposed to the proposals, as I have said, but if they should go through this House and become a reality, I would participate in the referendum campaign. The question asked should concentrate not only on whether we should give the Welsh Assembly more powers, but on whether we wish to scrap that institution. That would be a far more balanced referendum. I hope that I shall not have to participate in any such referendum, because I hope that my party will have the good sense not to go down the separatist road. If it does, I shall participate in the referendum campaign, as I did in the previous one.
I very much appreciate having the opportunity to draw to the House's attention five important issues for my constituents.
The first, following the comments of Llew Smith, relates not to legislation but to the implications and delivery that follow on from legislation. Yesterday, Michael Varah, who had been the chief probation officer for Surrey, left the probation service before time, and I hope that the Home Secretary will look into the reasons for his departure. Surrey is an area where it is difficult to find public servants, yet it has exceeded others in its delivery of probation services. It is the third highest performer out of the 42 probation services, and has achieved the highest score on the European excellence model, and the highest level of sentencer satisfaction in the south-east. Its Investors in People award has been renewed, and it is the top-performing area out of 42 in terms of efficient use of space and its accredited programme completions. It also has the highest staff job satisfaction in the south-east, which is a remarkable outcome, and it was the first to achieve the citizens charter award. Michael Varah is leaving his post early, and all that I ask of the Home Secretary is to ensure that Mr. Varah's views on the National Offender Management Service are properly considered. The legislation has gone through, and it will be two months before the new service begins its work. The comments of a public servant such as Michael Varah, who is dedicated to the general good, would be very useful indeed.
My second subject is Farnham castle, of which I am president. It is a wonderful 12th century castle dedicated to intercultural briefing. For years, it was dedicated to training British expats going overseas to work in different parts of the world. It has reinvented its mission and is now involved in briefing people coming to this country. My connection is with Sir Bernard Crick's work, "The New and the Old", the report of the Life in the United Kingdom advisory group. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 required that residents seeking British citizenship be tested to show that they had a sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, and a sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom. I have been interested in race relations for many decades—perhaps since I was chairman of the juvenile court in Brixton at the time of the Brixton riots—and I believe that the provision of sensitive training and preparation for people coming to live in this country is enormously important. Farnham castle has run four excellent pilot programmes for teachers of English as a second language. However, work on the highly skilled migrant programme and in other areas seems to have come to a grinding halt. There were high expectations for those initiatives, which I believe could make a profound difference. Will the Minister ensure that I receive a reply from the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office, to tell me what the next steps are to be? The programmes that Farnham castle has run, which Sir Bernard Crick visited, were funded generously by the Esmée Fairburn foundation. There appears to be no funding and no progress, but surely at this time, when race relations are perhaps more important than at any previous time, some practical examples of good practice could be developed.
One thing that I shall miss when I am no longer a Member of Parliament is the diversity of issues that constituents bring to us. Last Friday, students from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design came to my surgery. I imagined that they were going to protest, as students did yesterday, about the Government's appalling steps to ensure that students live in poverty and are discouraged from applying for courses that provide no immediate remuneration. But that was not the case. James Lee and his team from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design came to see me on a subject on which I have never been contacted previously. They wanted me to know that one of the unforeseen consequences of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 may be the loss of up to 50 per cent. of public toilets. The British Toilet Association, about whose existence I must admit that I was not altogether well briefed, has done excellent work on this matter. Its strong belief is that in too many cases local authorities will close public toilets because it is too costly to make them disabled-accessible. I ask the Minister whether he can bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Local and Regional Government, and perhaps discussions can take place with the Local Government Association, so that the excellent students at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, while disappointed at the Government's progress with regard to student fees, can at least feel encouraged on this matter of fundamental importance.
My constituency has an Abbeyfield home at Haslemere, two in Farnham, and a special care Abbeyfield home. There are 800 Abbeyfield homes across the country. Taking over from Dame Gillian Wagner, I have become the national president. Abbeyfield's concern is that lack of progress on the supporting people grant is putting its work in serious jeopardy. I am sure that virtually every Member values the work that Abbeyfield society homes do in their constituencies to provide sheltered accommodation and support to older people, with care, companionship and privacy in a collegiate atmosphere. Volunteers and others are generous with their time and resources. At a time when all too many homes for the elderly are closing because the Government insist on higher standards without being able to make the financial means available, it would be a great shame if such an effective, successful movement were seriously jeopardised. I simply ask that the Deputy Prime Minister's colleague who is most responsible for this issue should meet Brian House, Abbeyfield's chief executive, to discuss why a relatively small modification in the supporting people grant could make all the difference.
I fear that my last and fifth point is of a particularly grave and disappointing nature. The rumour mill in my constituency is turning once again about grave and serious implications from internal NHS decisions, which will force decisions on our local primary care trust that will be entirely unacceptable to local people, and that will entirely breach the growing respect and confidence that they have begun to regain in the NHS. One of the greatest disappointments about Labour when it came to power was that in the first couple of years after 1997, as many as one in 10 of my constituents were waiting more than a year for in-patient treatment, whereas the figure in Durham was only ever one in 100. We had a serious crisis, with more and more people having to go to private sources to ensure that they received adequate health care. I have now received messages again from Milford hospital and Haslemere hospital suggesting that the flexibility that was available will be withdrawn and that several million pounds will be taken out of the budget, or decisions will be taken that will entirely destroy any sense of consensus about the NHS. I hope that the Minister will bring that to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health. Surrey contains many people who pay a high rate of tax. They pay the Chancellor of the Exchequer in good spirit, but they expect a fair return. It is wrong that people on social security in Surrey should receive a much worse standard of health care than people on social security in Bermondsey or Durham. The cost of living and the cost of wages are so great in Surrey that the delivery of public services is particularly difficult there. We have already lost an excellent health authority chief executive—someone like Michael Varah—who was dedicated to the NHS. Six years ago, she was asked to try to deliver the undeliverable. We now have a new team, dedicated and professional, who fear that mounting pressures may prevent them from delivering what is required. We must present our public servants with challenges that are achievable. I hope that the Minister will be able to convey that to the Secretary of State for Health before the Easter break.
I hope that I have spoken within my allotted 10 minutes, which will have pleased my colleagues. I apologise to the Minister for not being able to be present for the winding-up speech. That is a grave discourtesy—but I will read every word with the greatest care as I open my Easter eggs.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few observations about the fragile health of local government. Like many Members—although, I suspect, none who are present now—I have served on the borough council in Southend-on-Sea, and also on the county council. One of the disadvantages of maturing in years is that one's ideas appear to be outdated until they come back into fashion. I await the time when what I am about to say comes back into fashion. When I was elected to the borough council in 1980, I had the privilege of serving on the bus committee because we had a fleet of buses. I had the pleasure of serving on the airport committee because the council had its own airport. I had the pleasure of serving on the amenities committee because we had theatres, piers, bandstands and a range of municipal enterprises run by the local authority. I did not serve on the housing committee; had I done so, I would have been in a position to consider housing policy in the borough, and decide whether to admit people to tenancies.
Over the years, the situation has changed. No one can deny that. Mr. Amess, who is present, knows full well that we no longer have a fleet of buses, an airport or many of the other facilities that were once operated directly by the council. However, I think that the decline in local authorities' ability to influence the lives of those whom they serve has been diminished in an even more important way. One of the pleasures of all councillors was to serve on a planning committee. I say that it was a pleasure, but it was not a pleasure to be contacted by all and sundry about the decision that one was about to make. Whatever decision was made was almost invariably wrong in some people's eyes. Nevertheless, one had the ability to make a decision on what should happen in the community, based on local knowledge and representation. The present doctrine requires one to sit there like a puisne judge and regard the whole thing as a quasi-legal process, staying clear of any electors who might approach one, lest one disqualify oneself from making the decision by listening to them. As a consequence, yet another function of the locally elected councillor has been diminished to the point at which it lacks any democratic vitality.
I do not wish to paraphrase the great former Member Aneurin Bevan, who kept trying to see where the power was as he moved up local government, but I then served on the county council. When I first went there, the county council had a police committee, on which I served. Elected members had a major responsibility for considering not the operational details, but the general direction of the force within their own county. The county council also operated the fire brigade, as it was then known, in the county. Local authorities also ran colleges of higher education. All of those matters have been stripped away from local authorities to the various bodies to which my hon. Friend Llew Smith referred in relation to the Principality.
Is it a surprise that fewer people now take an interest in serving on local authorities or in taking part in the election of those few who wish to serve on them? Alas, what I have said is not even the end of the decline. The decline has gone on apace under Governments of both political persuasions. We now have cabinet-style government in local authorities. That was to be the dynamic engine to drive local government into the 21st century, as the cliché has it. There always was a cabinet in local government. The leaders of the controlling party would meet to map out the course it was to take; they would then have the devil of a job steering policies through the committees because their own supporters would wish to promote local matters.
That appears not to be so now. We have cabinets—a grand-sounding name which, to those of us unlikely ever to serve on one, has a certain distance. The cabinets make all sorts of decisions before they are ever discussed by elected representatives, either in the county or the borough. We have scrutiny committees, which ape the mode in this place. As far as I can understand from councillors I know, it is difficult for the scrutiny system to be effective. In any event, the decisions have been made already.
We have novelties such as elected mayors in some places—fortunately, the county of Essex has not been burdened with such an idea—but they have not always turned out as people imagined. The major parties thought that people were bound to elect one of their own, but they have found that a Liberal, a member of the Green party or, in one case, an official monkey might be elected.
I do not know how powerful some of those mayors are. We have heard about the former Member for Brent, East in his position as Mayor of London. The great leaders of the London county council such as Herbert Morrison would have been dismissive of the puny powers of the Mayor. We must consider what the non-mayors who led the county council achieved in the past, not just within the London but way out in the surrounding community. Their monuments are still there to be seen today. It is premature yet to judge whether the Mayor of London will achieve that.
I do not believe that the purpose is to destroy local government. I believe that carelessness has slipped in over the past 20 to 25 years. If we allow that carelessness to continue, we should not be surprised if people are disinclined to take part in elections, however many postal votes we introduce or however many times we change the election date from one day to another. Each change in a way humiliates local government, as the election is tagged along with another election. I hope that the spirit in which I say that alludes not to the errors of judgment of any political party, but to a collective philosophy that we all share. It is perhaps now the time to say, "No more". Let us consider what local accountability and local democracy are really about.
Before the House adjourns, I should like to raise the case of my constituent Major Richard Perkins, on whose behalf I have been corresponding with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence for more than four years. Major Perkins was discharged from the Army in 1959, following service with the Royal Leicestershire Regiment in Malaysia. In December 1958, a medical board pronounced him
"unfit for any form of military service".
He had suffered a mental breakdown. Although he was unaware of this, his medical condition was judged by the MOD at the time not to be attributable to service—which was to become very important later.
In October 1998, as many colleagues know, the Army personnel centre in Glasgow wrote to several hundred retired Army officers, drawing attention to an error in the tax treatment of the pensions of a number of former Army officers who had retired on health grounds before
"Our records suggest that you may be affected by this error."
A review determined that he was not entitled to tax-free status because his illness, according to the records, was not attributable.
The pensions appeal tribunal subsequently overturned that decision, and on
I advised Major Perkins to appeal against that decision, as did the Forces Pension Society. I also wrote to the Armed Forces Minister on
"No liability to income tax arises on . . . retired pay of a disabled officer granted on account of medical unfitness attributable to or aggravated by service in the armed forces of the Crown".
I am still awaiting a definitive response from the Armed Forces Minister to my letter of
In the meantime, completely out of the blue, on
By wrongly taxing Major Perkins for more than 40 years on what is an extremely modest pension, the MOD has significantly undermined his quality of life. My constituent is now 86 years old. The Government should surely refund the tax and pay to him without further delay the compensation that they have given to others, while he has the chance to enjoy it.
Major Perkins lives at Lastingham, in the North York Moors national park, and I want to discuss the livestock farmers of that area, who will be critically affected by the Government's proposed reforms to the common agricultural policy. My hon. Friend Mr. Atkinson raised this issue in a Westminster Hall debate a couple of weeks ago, and I should like to endorse all that he said about the problems that producers face in what the jargon describes as a "severely disadvantaged area". They face a significantly greater cut in support payments than will apply to lowland producers—to the extent that they will get even less support than lowland farmers. That is not only unjust; it simply does not make sense. The support system has always recognised that upland farmers need additional help because of the difficult climate and landscape conditions under which they farm. They cannot grow quality crops, but access to good grassland in upland areas has enabled them to become the backbone of the beef and sheepmeat industry. Many in this country believe that that industry is the best in Europe, if not the world.
The North York Moors national park committee is concerned that if these farmers are forced out of business—as many will be—the park's environment and landscape will be adversely affected. I am aware that representations are being made to Ministers, and many colleagues have raised their own concerns, but I should be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House passed on my concerns to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and urged them to think again. I will be meeting some of these farmers in Ryedale during the Easter recess. They deserve to be reassured that, at the very least, the Government will re-draw the boundaries applicable to qualification for support payments in such a way that upland and lowland farmers will be treated more equally.
The third issue concerns the town of Pickering, which lies at the foot of the North York moors and suffered severe flooding on no fewer than three occasions in the past three years: in March 1999, in October and November 2000, and in August 2002. Following the October 2000 flood, which colleagues will recall was particularly bad across Yorkshire, DEFRA Ministers agreed in February 2001 to fast-track eight flood defence schemes in the Yorkshire and Humber region. Pickering's is the only scheme that has not been progressed. The reason why is that it is both difficult to engineer and less easy to justify financially, because fewer properties there are affected by flooding than are affected in the more urban areas.
At a recent meeting, the Yorkshire regional flood defence committee, on the advice of the Environment Agency, decided to defer the scheme for further technical appraisal. However, the fast-track status of February 2001 expired yesterday, and even though the new points-scoring system—introduced by DEFRA in association with the Environment Agency—is less onerous than before, the considered view is that Pickering is unlikely ever to qualify for a scheme without the Government recognising that it is a special case and that the normal rules need not apply. Indeed, that is why special status was awarded three years ago. There is widespread disappointment and dismay at the fact that the Minister with responsibility for floods and his Department have declined the flood defence committee's request that special status be extended for a further two years. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I presented a petition on this matter only last week, as I think you were in the Chair at the time. To all intents and purposes, the Government promised Pickering a scheme. I hope that the Minister with responsibility for floods will, in time, respond more positively to help us to deliver on that promise to the town's residents and affected businesses.
My final point—I shall be as brief as possible—is about a more national and pressing matter relating to terrorism insurance. I remind the House of my long interest and experience in the industry. Members may recall that, following the IRA bomb at St. Mary Axe in 1993, insurers withdrew from providing insurance cover for property damage caused by terrorism. The all-party insurance and financial services group, which I have chaired since 1992, persuaded the then Government to set up a Government-sponsored insurer—Pool Re, a company which has worked extremely successfully. Following a number of approaches from the insurance industry, Pool Re's remit has recently been extended to cover business interruption, the point being that many businesses cannot trade for long periods if their premises are destroyed by a terrorist bomb.
The Treasury is endeavouring to make that important change without the need for further primary legislation, which is a wholly laudable aim. However, I want to suggest to the Leader of the House that significant difficulties of definition have led to uncertainty within the London insurance market as to the cover provided. The Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993 was written to deal with the threat posed by the IRA, not by al-Qaeda, so there are problems over the definition of organisations. In 1993 atrocities were caused by terrorist bombs; the atrocity at the World Trade Center in New York was caused by impact. There is also a desperate need to cater for public and employer liability, particularly in the area of bodily injury.
Insurers and their clients need greater certainty than is felt within the market at present. I am aware that there are ongoing discussions with the Government and the industry and I very much hope that the Leader of the House will expedite the matter.
Discussing terrorism on the floor of the House is always difficult, but if the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and Ministers are warning us that a terrorist incident in one of our major cities may be inevitable, the preparations that we make for such an appalling eventuality must surely incorporate being ready for the financial consequences. That problem has to be resolved with real urgency and I hope that what I have said will help to achieve that.
In common with most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I shall raise a series of mainly parochial issues. The first is about primary education in my Hornchurch constituency. There is a Conservative-run council in Havering—sadly, because it is both incompetent and bloody-minded. That has been demonstrated over recent weeks and months as it had created a position whereby at least two, possibly three, primary schools feel threatened with closure.
The brief history is that the council initially commissioned a report, according to which, because of surplus places in area that it defined as "Elm Park and South Hornchurch", the R J Mitchell school had to close. The school is named after the designer of the Spitfire because the school is located in what was once RAF Hornchurch, a historical site. A magnificent local campaign was conducted, with which I was involved, and it managed to defeat that proposal. Although school places were somewhat down in that particular school, it had a rising reputation, and I believe that in the next four or five years with house building in the borough and young families moving into the area the school numbers will increase.
The council then decided to set up a working party to reflect and report on the conclusions of the original report. Someone in the administration selectively leaked the findings of the working party, to the effect that two different schools were now under threat—Suttons and Ayloff schools in the same Elm Park and South Hornchurch area. Now, three schools are panicking over possibly facing closure and the council has managed to alienate the maximum number of people that it could. I attended meetings at Suttons, R J Mitchell and Ayloff schools and we had lobbies at the town hall.
If, a few months ago, someone had sat down to think about how to create maximum concern, panic and worry among governors, staff, teachers and children, they could not have produced a better plan. The council has gone as far as it is possible to go to alienate the maximum number of people in that part of my constituency.
Apparently, a decision will be made next week about which school might face closure, but there is no need for any of those schools to close. Suttons school is full and has a very good reputation. Ayloff school has some spare places, but only 14 per cent.—which is well under Government guidelines that stipulate that action should be taken only if the spare places reach 25 per cent. or more. Even then, the guidelines do not mention closure, but only the possibility, among other measures, of reducing capacity.
There is no reason why any of those schools should close. The latest to be threatened—Ayloff and Suttons—have good reputations; they are attractive schools and people actually move into the area so that their children can attend them. The same is true of R J Mitchell. None of them should face closure. I hope that we can win a victory on that campaign, as we did for the R J Mitchell school.
Secondly, I want to raise something that has been discussed many, many times in these debates and on other occasions in the House: mobile phone masts.
The hon. Gentleman is already getting excited—perhaps he will be raising the same issue later.
Two campaigns are under way in my constituency. The first is on O2's proposal to erect a mobile phone mast close to a primary school in an area called St. Leonard's hamlet—the original name for the Shoreditch children's home, mainly for orphans from the east end of London who were moved there in the 1920s, 1930s and later. However, the Stewart report—the most substantive piece of work on mobile phone mast technology—made it clear that, as a preventive measure, such masts should not be sited near primary schools. The skulls of children aged under 12 are less developed than those of adults, so they would be the most affected by any radiation produced by such masts.
I am not thrilled about having such masts anywhere in my constituency, but I realise that millions of people use mobile phones so the masts have to go somewhere. O2 wanted to put the mast next to St. Mary's school. That plan was rejected and the company submitted a proposal to put the mast on top of Harrow Lodge sports centre. Again, the plan was abandoned and it was proposed to erect the mast near St. Leonard's hamlet—much of which, due to its historical significance, is a conservation area. An effective local campaign is resisting that plan and the council has persuaded O2 to go back to the drawing board and reconsider.
O2 is proposing to erect another aerial near two schools on the same site. Their names—the Scargill infants school and the Scargill junior school—will have resonance for many Members. In the light of the Stewart report, and given the defeat of the company's previous attempts to put up aerials near primary schools, the House might have thought that O2 had learned a lesson and would look elsewhere—but no, it is trying to stick another aerial next to a junior and an infants school. Again, there is a local campaign and I hope that those plans can be defeated, as were others in the past.
My third point relates to the docklands light railway. Much of my constituency is in the Thames gateway regeneration area, for which there are great plans. Indeed, some of them have already been put into effect, while others will come to fruition over the next decade or so. However, there is one thing missing for Dagenham and also for Rainham, which is in the south of my constituency next to the Thames: transport links. There is a plan to extend the DLR—perhaps as far as Barking. It should go not only as far Dagenham but also to Rainham, because the transport links to London are inadequate.
The current rail service—c2c, formerly the London, Tilbury and Southend railway—is not sufficient to carry people in and out of the City during the rush hour; even at peak times, there are only three trains an hour. Any transport expert would tell the House that an effective commuter line for London needs at least four, and preferably five or six, trains an hour. Three trains an hour are not enough. The most obvious solution is to extend the DLR, and unless that is done the Thames gateway will not succeed. I have raised that with Transport for London, with the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and with a number of people in various capacities. There is a possibility that those proposals will come to fruition, but I am raising the issue today to emphasise that we need those transports links.
Lastly, I want to raise the issue of the Richard commission, although I am not a Welsh Member of Parliament—my constituency is in London. The Richard commission has recommended the introduction of the single transferable vote to the Welsh Assembly. What worries me is that if there were any possibility of the Richard commission proposals being accepted, such things could be proposed elsewhere. There are principally three areas—Scotland, Wales and London—where we have a kind of proportional system. A sort of vague, messy, bucket of pigs' entrails system has been introduced in London, Wales and Scotland. It is usually known as the additional member system. No one wanted it, and no one wants it now. It is very unclear, vague and not particularly accountable. Personally, as a matter of principle, I am completely opposed to proportional representation anyway. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Thanks for that.
Some time ago, shortly after the introduction of the Greater London authority, I tabled a question during the pilot period, when the precise definition of the GLA had not been completed, about what representations were made during the consultative period in support of what has become known as the additional member system. The answer that I received was that, out of 1,000 responses on the electoral system to be adopted, nine supported the additional member system, which, cynical as I am, led me to think that the Government would foist a tacky system like that on London, no matter what Londoners actually wanted. That is what we have seen.
If we move further towards a more pure proportional system, such as STV, we will have less effective representation. If we go down the route of increasing proportionality, we lose representation—we lose that constituency link. There is no choice about that. The problem for a lot of people who support proportional representation is that they think that, somewhere, there is a semi-mystical system that will provide perfect representation and a perfect constituency link will be preserved, yet there will also be perfect proportionality. Such a system does not exist.
The first-past-the-post system is obviously not perfect, but no system is perfect. First past the post is the nearest to a perfect system that we have. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] All right, calm down. It preserves direct accountability to the electorate. If we move further towards STV, we will see further alienation from the democratic process and increasing numbers of people failing to vote. Like my hon. Friend Llew Smith, I am not exactly clear of the genesis of the Richard commission, but if those ideas start to be adopted, it will be a disaster for representative democracy.
I have always supported the concept of a Greater London authority. The Greater London council should never have been abolished—that was just a Tory plot to try to rig things. The GLC should have been preserved. If we have some sort of Greater London authority, it should be run using the first-past-the-post system, with a single member for each borough. That is the most direct way to do things.
In the past four, five or six years, I have not heard a convincing argument for why we have the absurd system of twinning boroughs and an additional member system that no one wanted in the first place. We should do away with that system, have a single member for each borough and go back to first past the post, so we can re-establish the direct link and democratically accountability.
I shall transport the House from the boroughs of London to beautiful Devon, which is looking particularly good at the moment. The primroses are out in the banks, as are the celandines, and there is a touch of green in the hedges. I hope that many Members will spend their Easter break in my county.
I shall raise some problems in rural Devon. The size of my rural constituency is 600 sq miles. It is made up of small market towns and very small villages. Today, as I was thinking about what I wanted to say about Devon villages, I received a letter from the Countryside Agency advising me that the vital villages programme will close to new applicants. At the heart of this is the fact that the agency has had a reduction of £104.5 million in its settlement. Therefore, it will have to readjust its last published corporate plan.
The purpose of the vital villages programme was to enable villages to plan for their own future and to come together with the community to consider the vital services that all villages need. I fear for the survival of some of my villages where they already have problems with maintaining village halls. We have had much to say about village halls but they are important to a small community. I think particularly of my most northerly parish of Morebath, which is on the Exmoor border. Unfortunately, the village hall became so unsafe that it had to be demolished. The land is still available but the community must save from scratch to build a new hall.
In the south of my constituency, I have an acute problem in a small village called Gittisham, near the town of Honiton. Only a week ago, the occupants of 27 homes, all owned by one landlord, were advised that their tenancies would be terminated. That represents two thirds of the village. The impact on the community speaks for itself. Members should visualise the impact in the context of a town. If two thirds of a town's community were told, "You have three months' notice", that would present a real problem to that town or that community. I am working with all the agencies that are trying to find a solution to that acute problem.
East Devon district council, which constitutes the housing department in that part of Devon, is faced with having to rehouse these people. It already has 3,600 people on the housing list waiting for a home. Families with children will want to remain connected with their local schools. Elderly people will have packages of support from their social services department. I have written to the Minister, Lord Rooker, and I hope that his Department will fast-track an answer to me today so that when I return to Devon for the Easter recess I can meet the community and, if not solve the problem overnight, at least identify some options that might alleviate the acute problem that is faced in this small village.
Every village has the problem of post office closures. In my postbag today, I received a letter from the Payhembury parish council in east Devon, to advise me that it is concerned that it will lose access to its local village petrol pump because of action taken by the Environment Agency, which in following through a small spillage of oil has identified that although that problem has been sorted, the very small petrol station will have to fix some kit to the petrol pumps. The capital investment will be more than the petrol station makes in profit from the pumps. I hope that the Minister, who is smiling, is smiling sympathetically in response to the problem. If Payhembury loses its petrol pumps, motorists will have to make a 15-mile round trip to get petrol.
A small shop is attached to the petrol station. If the pumps go, there is a risk that the village shop will be lost as well. These are the day-to-day problems in villages in glorious Devon.
It seems a most untimely decision to curtail the activities of the Countryside Agency in its support for villages and rural communities that face myriad problems. My message to the Minister on the Treasury Bench, who I know will take up these matters with the appropriate Government Departments, is please to think again about the problems of rural communities.
At the heart of rural communities, of course, is the farming industry. My hon. Friend Mr. Greenway mentioned the impact of the changes to the common agricultural policy and the very difficult problems we will have on the uplands. I am worried about that because the landscape will change—it will go back to nature. That does not mean that it will look more beautiful than it does now. It will look unkempt and wild, so there will be a big environmental impact.
As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, that is not land on which one can grow crops, but it is suitable for rearing animals. Is it not ironic that at a time when we may not be able to support farming and animal farming on the uplands, we face the prospect, through changes to the rules on animal transportation, that we may end up eating more horses? Perhaps that is the game plan. We will not eat cattle and sheep; we will have to resort to eating horses.
We have been pressing the Government to use their powers to ensure the protection of horses, particularly horses that go abroad and end up in the meat trade, especially in France—a subject I know about, having been responsible at one time for equine health. We are begging the Government to ensure that the long-standing protection of our ponies on Dartmoor and in the New Forest—those low-value horses that we have always protected from being sold off as cheap meat abroad—is maintained in our British law. I urge the Government again today to use that power to ensure that our horses are protected.
I know that hon. Members are concerned about the time, but I shall raise one more issue. I was bitterly disappointed yesterday. I tried not to show it. I tried to be brave about it. After months and months of putting my name in the ballot for a question at Prime Minister's Question Time, I came up in the ballot yesterday, but I was No. 9 and that number was not reached. I must admit that I did not know until yesterday morning that I was in the ballot. I had got so used to not being drawn in the ballot that I had forgotten to look. It is rather like the national lottery—I forget to look to see whether I have won anything. There it was: No. 9, so I spent most of yesterday morning preparing the killer question to the Prime Minister, which I never had the chance to deliver.
I shall deliver the question now to the Minister on the Treasury Bench. It is about why the Prime Minister persists in denying the United Kingdom a referendum on the EU constitution. Within a year after the Government came in, they had had four referendums. Since they have been in office, they have held 34 referendums. So keen were they to move to referendums to give people a greater say in decision making that they introduced the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. That showed us that they were serious and that they had a long-term plan to keep on holding referendums. What happened?
The Government promised a referendum on the euro, but every public opinion poll has shown that, even if they held a referendum, they would not win it. The same is true of the constitution. The Prime Minister uses all sorts of excuses. First he says it is a matter for Parliament, and he prays in aid the fact—I shall say this very slowly—that an EU constitution is not a constitutional matter. Discuss. We will try and discuss it as much as we can. It is illogical to suggest that a matter to which so much time has been devoted and on which there is a document on the table entitled "EU Constitution" is not a constitutional matter.
I shall indulge myself by elaborating on the question that I intended to put the Prime Minister. There has been a lot of talk about a speech made in Berlin on the EU constitution, but one speech was made before my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition made his, and that was the speech made by Mr. Mandelson. In Berlin, in 1998, he said:
"Today, people want to be more involved. Tony Blair's Government has already held two referendums and three more are at some stage in prospect, not to mention more citizens' movements, more action from pressure groups. Democracy and legitimacy need constant renewal. They need to be redefined with each generation. Representative government is being complemented by more direct forms of involvement from the internet to referendums. This requires a different style of politics and we are trying to respond to these changes."
It has been clear from the beginning of this Labour Government that referendums are on the agenda. They were part of the game plan. But now when the really big one comes up—
They are bottling out. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
If I am ever fortunate enough to be successful again in the ballot for Prime Minister's questions, I shall return to that subject because the British people deserve to have a say in a constitution.
Order. At least five, perhaps six, hon. Members are trying to catch my eye in the remaining 60 or so minutes available. In a spirit of good will as Easter approaches, perhaps hon. Members will have regard to their colleagues so that everyone can be fitted in.
I have great sympathy with Mrs. Browning. I had Question 6 to the Prime Minister yesterday, and I was not called, and if the House will indulge me further in terms of time, I simply point out that Government Back Benchers have a much more difficult task in catching Mr. Speaker's eye because of our numbers.
I want to raise the issue of how preserving people's security can give rise to a tension with maintaining our democratic liberties. Unfortunately, debate on this issue in this House, the other place and outside is often bedevilled by the failure of many of those claiming to protect our liberties to acknowledge the concerns of ordinary people, from antisocial behaviour to terrorist threats. They use a traditional stylised analysis that fails to connect with such concerns. That is sometimes coupled with claims to a moral rectitude, which frankly sticks in my craw. I claim no monopoly of concern, conscience or wisdom in the remarks that I am about to make.
I take as an example the concern about terrorism of Mr. Greenway. I acknowledge at the outset that there is a real danger that our response to terrorism may undermine the very democratic values that we seek to uphold. As my noble Friend the Attorney-General said in a thoughtful speech last night to the Bar parliamentary group, our response cannot be simply a utilitarian calculation, weighing the rights of security of the many against the legal rights of the few. That would ignore the values on which our democratic society is built. We must approach the issue as a matter of moral principle, not simply as a matter of pure self-interest.
That is why on various occasions, including previous recess debates, I have raised my concerns about Guantanamo bay, which is an American own goal. The detentions there impose grave harm on the detainees when, in the absence of proper judicial scrutiny, we can only speculate whether it is for the benefit of the American people or of people elsewhere, such as the United Kingdom.
We face, of course, a serious terrorist threat—its seriousness is underlined by the arrests earlier this week. Al-Qaeda and its sympathisers are of a completely different character from terrorists in the past. They are a global, messianic movement and they are not concerned about destroying innocent lives in the pursuit of their unachievable goal of overthrowing western civilisation.
How should we respond? We must respond in accordance with law, mindful that, as Lord Hoffmann said in the Rehman case,
"in matters of national security the cost of failure can be high".
Provisions such as the Explosive Substances Act 1883, which catches terrorist bombing, have been on the statute book for many years, and the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 approach the problem in the same way. The width of the offences is sometimes criticised, but the criticism mainly concerns the enforcement of the legislation, to which I shall return.
In the main, we have met the terrorist threat in a traditional way, in accordance with law and our principles of civil liberties and human rights. The one exception is part 4 of the 2001 Act, which allows for the detention of foreign nationals certified by the Home Secretary as a risk to national security and as suspected terrorists. Such foreign nationals cannot be deported because we cannot guarantee their human rights, so they can be detained indefinitely under the 2001 Act.
Without further measures, that power of detention would be unacceptable and the report by Lord Newton of Braintree and other Privy Councillors that those provisions should be repealed would be compelling. However, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which is a court of record with the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal, regularly reviews the detention of persons under part 4. SIAC may use intelligence information that is not available to the defendant, but that is seen by special advocates appointed to act on behalf of detainees. It is a further point in support of our independent Bar—I declare an interest at this point—that those advocates are of the highest competence and integrity.
Examples such as last year's Ajouaou case show the thoroughness with which SIAC approaches such matters. More recently the case of M, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, shows that SIAC is no pushover. Frankly, the alternatives advanced in the Privy Councillors' report such as surveillance and tagging will not work with the most determined terrorists. Moreover, there could well be a temptation towards a greater intrusion on to civil liberties by use of such alternatives against a range of people, including those with only a tangential connection with wrongdoing. By contrast, the Home Secretary has certified only 17 people.
Lord Woolf's judgment in the M case, which I have mentioned, is a balanced appreciation of the problem, and an acceptance that the legislation gets it right. His judgment, and the recent remarks by the eminent legal scholar Professor Ronald Dworkin, fortify me in my support for the Government on this issue when we went into the Lobby on
I was pleased that one aspect of the problem is raised in the White Paper, "One Step Ahead: A 21st Century Strategy to Defeat Organised Criminals", which the Home Secretary published earlier this week. The White Paper mentions review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which prevents the use of intercepted material in court proceedings, and I am glad that it is being reviewed.
I shall return to the enforcement of the Terrorism Act 2000. Earlier this year, the Home Secretary told me in a written answer that of the 530 people arrested under the 2000 Act, about half were released without charge. When my hon. Friend Ms King asked a similar question, she was told that no record is kept of how many of those people are Muslims. There is disquiet in the Muslim community about the use of the 2000 Act, however justified the 2000 Act may be—it is comparable to the feeling among the Irish community a quarter of a century ago. We must reassure the Muslim community that there is no persecution, and we must also assuage any Islamophobia in the general population.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister praised Iqbal Sacranie for his remarks on those issues. This week, I have spoken several times to Khurshid Ahmed, the chair of the National Association of British Pakistanis and a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, who echoed Mr. Sacranie's views that terrorism should be utterly condemned as being contrary to Islam and that those in the Muslim community who suspect terrorism must report it. Mr. Ahmed also made the valid point that we must address the disillusion among young Muslim men that can tempt them down the terrorist path. One cause of that is the considerable underachievement of Muslim young people in education.
We have only just had the Third Reading of the Higher Education Bill. I do not want to go over that ground again, but having failed to catch the Speaker's eye on Second Reading on
First, universities are engaged in the search for truth. That is a justification for academic freedom, since the search for truth can sometimes rub up against vested interests or the powers that be. The search for truth is often conducted at a theoretical level—a level of generality—that does not have an immediate application to everyday life. The search for truth leads to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world, and that can function to transmit through the generations a common culture and civilisation.
Secondly, universities educate. Their role is in educating students to live life to the full through the acquisition of skills and through fostering imagination and creativity. All those who are able to benefit from a university education should have an equal opportunity to do so, because it involves not only personal fulfilment, but potential gain. Confucius said that it was not easy
"to find someone who had studied for three years without aiming at pay".
Thirdly, universities fulfil a utilitarian function. Discoveries, especially in science and medicine, can have profound benefits for society. Students graduate and contribute to society through their work. Universities educate foreign students and contribute to Britain's invisibles. And so it goes on. However, although it is vital, that utilitarian function can never be the sole justification for universities.
I spent a great deal of my adult career in universities. In the 1980s and 1990s, I saw how they suffered very much from a real reduction in funding as the staff-student ratio went up. George Walden, the former Member for Buckingham, described it as "mass cultivation on the cheap". The Government have put in additional money since 1997, but I saw the Higher Education Bill as the only way forward in terms of providing further financial support for universities, and I had no compunction about supporting it.
These recess Adjournment debates are invaluable not only in providing an opportunity for Members to put specific points, but in allowing us to raise more general issues, as I have. I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and other hon. Members a productive and restful recess.
I have often thought that the questions which we were unable to ask and the speeches that we never had a chance to deliver were probably the best ones. Today's debate has proved it to me, because there have been excellent contributions all round. Alternatively, perhaps it is because as it is not Government business and there is no Whip, Members can use their intellect and display their true integrity.
I want to speak in support of some of the speeches. The contribution by Llew Smith was admirable in every respect, particularly his allegation to the effect that Lord Richard is getting too big for his boots. He proposed that increasing the quangocracy, which is what the Welsh Assembly has become, would not benefit the people of Wales. As John Cryer so wisely pointed out, the imposition of STV—the single transferable vote—would make that Assembly even less democratic.
I was most interested in the remarks of Mr. Hurst, who perhaps represents the municipal arm of old Labour. He rather reminded me of a smoother version of the "Peter Simple" character—the craggy-visaged, iron-watch-chained chairman of the Bradford tramways and fine arts committee. Nevertheless, he made the extremely important point that the transformation—or modernisation, as I suppose we must call it—of local government has in practical terms diminished the direct accountability of local authorities to their electorate. I also support his calling into question of the role of cabinets and elected mayors.
I support the speeches made by the countryside element among my hon. Friends. I speak for the suburbs, but my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) speak for the countryside—Yorkshire and the west country, respectively. They made important points, especially about the malign effect of the common agricultural policy on our countryside. I know the uplands of the north of England well, because I lived in the north Pennines for 17 years. The reduction of support prices for sheep and cattle production would be absolutely disastrous. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who is always a lady of conscience and sensibility, was right to explain to us how awful the countryside of Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest would be without ponies if they were all shipped off live for slaughter on the continent. We must address those problems.
I want to talk about a smaller matter. It is a specific transport link that is at the other end of the problem described by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. He talked about the docklands light railway, and I want to talk about the Croxley link. I do not know whether you know much about the Croxley link, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I assure you that I shall try, in an exceedingly short time, to describe its merits. There is a little, disused branch line that goes through Croxley green from Watford. Everybody knows about the Metropolitan line because they read John Betjeman, and they know how lovely the places that lie along the line are—especially my constituency. If the branch line were restored to service, Metropolitan line tube trains could go along the Croxley link—through the centre of Watford—to Watford junction main railway station, which gives people the opportunity to take trains to Birmingham, the north-west and beyond.
At little cost, such a measure would have an immensely beneficial effect on an important industrial area. The hon. Member for Hornchurch said that the Thames gateway was an important economic area, and for me and my constituents, such an area is the north-west corridor. We were promised Crossrail down the north-west corridor from Aylesbury to Amersham—through my constituency—and I fought hard for a Crossrail stop in Northwood so that people could link up to Paddington, the City, Stratford and beyond. We will now be lucky to get Crossrail running even from Heathrow—through the centre of London—to the east of the capital, so it is almost impossible to imagine Crossrail going down the north-west corridor. If the Croxley link were built, it would at least be a substitute, at modest cost, for some of the potential that Crossrail could have offered.
My constituents have to struggle through traffic to get to Watford general hospital, and to Watford—for shopping—or the main line station. Such a journey is exceedingly difficult without the link. The Metropolitan line ends at Watford tube station, which is 2.5 miles from Watford's main line station. I see that the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Mr. Heald, is taking notes; as a Hertfordshire Member, he understands the problem well. The process represents a good Conservative principle, because public services would be greatly enhanced at only modest cost. My constituents would benefit, Watford would benefit, and so would the country.
Street crime in Castle Point is spiralling out of control, as it is in Essex and elsewhere in the country. There are now threats of vigilante action in my constituency. The police are often blamed, but that is quite wrong. Many of us must accept the blame—the police have only a small part of it. Those who are most to blame must be the parents of the children who are out on the streets because they do not take an interest in knowing where their children are, what they are doing, or the time of night at which they do it. They do not seem to take control action to stop them. I want parents to be given more information by the police about what is going on and to be encouraged to control their children's actions. That differs from the politically correct attitude that we have seen in recent years, especially from new Labour Members, preventing parents from taking appropriate action to control their children's behaviour.
My local police are under great pressure. The Home Secretary and the Essex police authority have presided over a shortfall in my local police force—the Castle Point and Rayleigh division—of some 27.7 per cent. It is operating at almost a third under establishment for various reasons. That is partly why street crime in Castle Point has been getting out of control. That situation cannot continue. The police authority and the Home Secretary must accept responsibility and give the local chief superintendent, John Mauger, more resources and more police officers whom he can put on the beat so that the problem can be solved.
My hon. Friend Mr. Francois and I met Chief Superintendent Mauger last week. There is a plan of action to tackle the major problems in our area. The local police will go out on the streets and additional numbers will be provided for a short time. I call on them to show no tolerance of antisocial behaviour, youth nuisance or straightforward thuggery. I call on the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute offences whenever they can, and on the courts to impose exemplary sentences that will deter louts who spoil everything for our communities. Many hon. Members share my anxieties about the growth of street nuisance.
Last week, the National Audit Office published "The Drug Treatment and Testing Order: Early Lessons". The lessons were that only 28 per cent. of drug treatment orders were completed satisfactorily. Seventy per cent. of participants continued to test positive for opiates after 12 months, and reconviction rates two years after commencement of the orders were as high as 80 per cent.—far higher than the reconviction rates of criminals in general. The National Audit Office suggests a range of administrative improvements, which might help to bring the treatment regimes up to the standard of the best.
I want to consider the new evidence that is emerging in France. As hon. Members know, I do not often speak kindly about what goes on in France, but when we can learn from the French, we should be prepared to do that. Treatment appears to be working much better in France than here and it therefore offers better value for money. We should enjoy the benefits of the French success.
A follow-up of 300 drug-dependent patients in France, treated by general practitioners—I stress that the treatment was by GPs, similar to the old regime in Britain—showed a retention rate of 88 per cent., in a complete inversion of what is happening in Britain. Seventy per cent. of patients had stopped taking heroin. Although the figures for reconviction are not strictly comparable, delinquency in France was measured at only 7 per cent. in the follow-up.
The French widely use buprenorphine rather than methadone for maintenance because it acts as an antidote to itself in higher doses. That means that there is no point in ramping the dose and almost no black market, and that it is safe and effective to prescribe through the GP network. The results are startling. It is well worth the National Audit Office considering the French experience. France has found a far more cost-effective way in which to deal with the massive social and criminal problems that are caused by opiate addiction. We must be prepared to learn from this and spread good practice and success.
Arthritis is a crippling and debilitating disease for which there is no cure. It is progressive and attacks young and old alike. It affects 12,000 people in Castle Point and 12,000 people in Southend, West. Indeed, it affects, on average, 15 per cent. of all our constituents and is the biggest cause of disability in Britain today. Worst of all, it is very painful for those who suffer from it.
I want to bring two astounding facts to the attention of the House. The first is that one in four GP visits are associated with arthritis. The second, which is linked to that, is that the GP contract mentions diabetes, cancer, cardiac problems and obesity but makes no mention of arthritis. That must be an oversight, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Health will readdress the priority given to arthritis. I recommend to the House a publication called "OA nation—the most comprehensive UK report of people with osteoarthritis", which was launched by Arthritis Care this week in the Palace of Westminster.
I can never speak in these debates without mentioning Cyprus, as hon. Members will know. Kofi Annan's upbeat announcement has shown that he has brokered a deal, and that a referendum can probably now take place in both parts of the Cypriot community. If Mr. Papadopoulos, DISY and AKEL are going to recommend a yes vote, as may be the case, perhaps we can wish them luck and hope that that goes forward. Cypriots deserve a just settlement that will allow them to grow together as a single community, and to make up for the past by working together in the future. I am sure, however, that there should be no permanent derogation from Europe on the occupation of that island by troops under the control of another nation. That would be simply intolerable and probably have the effect of a blackball in any referendum. We all wish the settlement process well, but it will be just the start of the rebuilding of a single island, rather than the end.
"an unequivocally-stated preparedness on the part of the leaders of both sides, fully and determinedly backed at the highest political level in both motherlands, to commit . . . to finalise the plan (without re-opening its basic principles or essential trade-offs)".
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the two conditions are that all the parties should sign up to the agreement, and that essential principles and trade-offs stand in any final agreement?
Yes, indeed. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was pleased to see how many concessions were made by the Greek side, but equally disappointed that Rauf Denktash, for the Turkish side, did not even attend the recent talks. That was a great disappointment.
I shall move on to talk briefly about hospices. They play a very special part in health care provision, and I should like to praise the dedication, care and love shown by all hospice workers, organisers, volunteers and fundraisers. They do a superb job, cheerfully and happily helping people at a devastating time in their lives. I keep telling the House that Government funding of hospices needs to be reviewed, but we see no action. In the average adult hospice, 20 per cent. of funding comes from Government money; that figure is 5 per cent. for the average children's hospice. The children's hospice in my constituency, Little Haven, receives only 1.5 per cent. of its funding from public money. That is unsustainable.
Conservative policy is that all hospices, for both adults and children, should receive 40 per cent. of their funds from public money, and I hope that the Government will take that on board and reconsider hospice funding. That 40 per cent. funding would enable hospices to remain independent. The very small amounts of lottery— New Opportunities Fund—money that is now being fed through to the hospice movement is not the answer, and that funding is not guaranteed in the future. I congratulate the campaigning News Shopper, which has been fighting for hospice funding justice for more than a year and has consistently called on the Government to address the issue. I congratulate the News Shopper, the Basildon Evening Echo and all the local campaigning groups on putting pressure on the Government, as we have done, to give hospices a fair funding deal.
If we are to have civilisation, we need international law. In recent years, the United Nations has set up war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and for the former republic of Yugoslavia. The International Criminal Court has been set up and is now investigating the possibility of war crimes in northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I want to speak about Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was devastated by conflict for 10 years. It was not ethnic, tribal or religious conflict, but conflict deliberately stirred up by people such as Charles Taylor, who wanted to control that country's diamond assets. In June 2000, the Government of Sierra Leone wrote to the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, requesting assistance in setting up a war crimes tribunal. In August 2000, under UN resolution 1315, the Security Council set up a war crimes tribunal. I was fortunate to be present at the opening of the special court for Sierra Leone on
The war crimes tribunal has indicted a number of people. I suspect that one reason why Colonel Gaddafi has come into line is that it was clear that he was in danger of being indicted. One of those indicted was Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. The indictment—I have a copy of it with me—runs to 20 or so pages of offences against humanity committed by Taylor. It says that he received military training in Libya in the late 1980s, and goes on to describe how he sought to obtain access to the mineral wealth, and particularly the diamond wealth, of Sierra Leone. The crimes alleged in the indictment include killings, abductions, forced labour, physical and sexual violence, use of child soldiers, and looting and burning of civilian structures.
Those terms do not really describe the brutality of what happened. People were skinned alive. People were asked whether they wanted to be left-handed or right-handed, and depending on their answer, either their left or right arms were amputated. Soldiers would take bets when they bayoneted pregnant women on whether the foetus was male or female. Some horrific barbarism occurred at the start of the 21st century, but Taylor was indicted, and I have no doubt that that was one reason why he was brought down in Liberia.
Taylor left Liberia and is now in Nigeria. The point of my speech is that I find it wholly unacceptable that a Commonwealth country—possibly the leading Commonwealth country in west Africa—is harbouring a man who has been indicted by a UN-backed war crimes tribunal. The President of Nigeria purportedly granted political asylum to Taylor last August. At the time of Taylor's arrival in Nigeria, he was specifically excluded from the scope of refugee and asylum protection by section 20 of Nigeria's Asylum Act, which states:
"when there are serious reasons to believe that" a person
"has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity, as in any international instrument to which Nigeria is a party and which has been drawn up to make provisions in respect of such crimes" that person should not be granted refuge. Clearly, Nigeria has considerable obligations under international law.
Those of us who are concerned about international development welcomed the New Partnership for Africa's Development—NEPAD—but NEPAD was a contract, under which we would give more development assistance to Africa in exchange for Africa doing a number of things, not least peer review. Surely the least that countries such as Nigeria should do is hand over war criminals so that they can stand trial.
Colleagues in the United States Congress have been much more robust than we have been. Senator Judd Gregg, chairman of the Senate appropriations sub-committee on commerce, justice, state and the judiciary, has been quoted as saying
"Charles Taylor was one the chief instigators of the campaign of terror undertaken by the rebel group Revolutionary United Front during the conflict in Sierra Leone . . . By exiling Charles Taylor to Nigeria, it was hoped that his ability to further destabilize West African nations—including his own country of Liberia—would be eliminated . . . The terms of Mr. Taylor's asylum were clear: he was to completely disengage himself from the day to day affairs . . . of Liberia. However, Taylor has broken—flagrantly—the terms of this agreement . . . It is now time for Charles Taylor to answer for his crimes, and it is my hope that the State Department will work with the Nigerian Government to arrange Taylor's swift handover to the Special Court. Until Taylor is put in a place where he can do no further damage, all the efforts we have made will be lost. There is no place where justice can be served except in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the home of the Special Court."
When I was in Freetown, everyone told me that the work of the special court would not be completed until Taylor was brought to justice.
A woman from Sierra Leone, Aminatta Forna, author of "The Devil That Danced on Water", which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, says
—the special court, that is—
"has one year left to fulfil its brief. If prosecutors succeed in bringing Taylor to face trial then it will have earned its place in history. If not, then millions will have been spent on the convictions of possibly no more than nine people.
The sense of law, of justice in this post-war society has become so warped, so removed from reality that one woman kidnapped by rebel soldiers and forced to act as a nurse believed until the end of the interview that it was she who was to be charged. In fact she was seen as a potential witness.
For the people of Sierra Leone, justice of some sort must be seen to be done. After all, what if the world had turned their backs? What if the Special Court had not existed at all?"
I urge Her Majesty's Government to bring to bear such pressure as is reasonable on Nigeria—a fellow Commonwealth country and a leading member of the Commonwealth in west Africa—to accept that now is the time to hand over Taylor for trial to a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal.
I want to raise a number of points. The first concerns law and order. There is no doubt that the British Government are letting the British people down in that regard. In the present climate, the criminal has absolutely no fear—but the law-abiding citizen certainly has.
Only last week, my mother, who lives in a London borough and is in her 90s, answered the door in the morning to a water board attendant. Stupidly—she now says—she let him in. By the time he had left, she had discovered that he had stolen every brass penny she had. The police were magnificent; they took fingerprints. It seems that she was about the third in line.
That says it all. Criminals no longer wait until it is dark; they act morning, noon and night. Southend is no different from anywhere else in that respect. I had a useful exchange in Westminster Hall last week with the Minister responsible for policing, who kindly offered to consider a number of the points that I had raised. The Government will claim that things are getting better, but that is not how the public see it. They want a more visible police force.
There are certainly plenty of speed cameras. In answer to an oral question, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Jamieson, challenged me to find examples of constituents who were just over the speed limit. I have now found an example, and I await the Minister's reaction with interest.
I am delighted that the local newspaper, the Yellow Advertiser, is launching a campaign this week called "More feet on the beat." It is to be led by the editor, Graeme Allen, and one of the reporters, Luke Walsh. The Home Secretary will get coupons telling him that the general public feel that he should provide sufficient funding for 10 extra police to patrol the streets in the Southend police division. I was recently on a Health Committee visit to Odense, where we saw at first hand the wonderful impact on law enforcement and the reassurance to the general public that is provided by police officers getting on their bikes. I have a letter from the chief constable of Essex, who reassured me that he would look at the issue.
I salute the owner of a large retail chain called Choice, who is issuing carrier bags that say, "We support Crimestoppers." When I told the Minister responsible for policing about it, she was encouraged; it is another matter for her to look at carefully. At the moment, Leigh police station is closed in the evenings and Eastwood station is open occasionally, but Westcliffe station is now closed. My constituency is No. 1 in the country for people aged between 100 and 110. They need reassurance through the greater visibility of our policemen and women.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the level of policing is a big issue across south Essex and was referred to by my hon. Friend Bob Spink. Does he agree that we need not only more regular police officers in Essex, but more special constables, who play a vital role in reinforcing the police, particularly at peak periods on Friday and Saturday nights?
I agree and I am advised that 90 special constables are in the process of being recruited.
I have mentioned on many occasions my constituent Maajid Nawaz, who was held in prison for two years. Last week, he went to court with two other detainees and was found guilty of belonging to the Islamic liberation movement that apparently wants to overthrow the Egyptian Government. They were sentenced to five years in prison. I went to see them in prison and there is no doubt that the charges are trumped up. I believe the family completely.
The families are upset about the way the matter has been dealt with. I am advised by the brother of Maajid Nawaz that following the announcement of the verdict, the Government said that they respected the decision and that Britain could not intervene in the course of justice or the courts of another country.
I am pleading with the Minister because we have only four weeks to act. He must speak to the Prime Minister to get him to intervene. Incidentally, all three detainees got the same sentence of five years, but they were not found guilty of the same crime. In Egypt, an appeal depends on the written explanation of the verdict, which has not been delivered by the judge. The Prime Minister must intervene immediately because, within four weeks, President Mubarak will be asked to ratify the sentence or approve the writing of the explanation. After that, we will all be wasting our time.
I hope that the Prime Minister will intervene because the families are distraught. He is always telling us that he is happy to see Members of Parliament, but he has not been happy to see me and the other Members involved. I would have thought that, under the circumstances, he could at the very least agree to see the Members of Parliament involved—alone if he insisted, or with the families. The Prime Minister intervened on behalf of two nurses who were convicted of murdering another nurse in Saudi Arabia, even though the evidence was overwhelmingly against them. It seems that he is able to intervene on some occasions. I ask the Minister to do what he can to persuade the Prime Minister to intervene quickly in that case.
My constituent, Simon Matthison, has been held in prison in France since
Although Simon is apparently being seen by a general practitioner in France, he is not getting the specialist treatment that he needs. Will the Minister send a message to the British embassy in France? I am not asking him to judge whether Simon is being held in prison rightly. He was accused of trying to smuggle illegal drugs into the UK in a sealed trailer that he had driven from Spain. He claims that he had no idea that the drugs were in the trailer, but I am not asking the Minister to intervene on that point. I ask only that he talk to the Foreign Office to get our embassy to ensure that Simon Matthison receives the correct treatment for his health problems.
The South East Essex Advocacy for Older People was founded in 1994 with originally just one member of staff. It has now expanded to include six paid members of staff and 14 volunteers. It does an absolutely wonderful job supporting people aged over 60 who suffer from Alzheimer's or other problems, and making representations on their behalf. That advocacy organisation would not survive were it not for its success with its community fund application. During the past year, it has received more than 600 inquiries, resulting in 400 case loads. I salute it; it does a magnificent job. Will the Minister ensure that it has more certainty over its funding?
A constituent of mine, Peter Little, is involved in a dispute with Lloyds TSB. He and his wife were mis-sold a critical illness insurance policy in October 1999, which stated that it was regulated by the Personal Investment Authority. When Mr. Little tried to claim, owing to his wife's failing health—they have small children—he was unable to do so. When he read the policy's small print, he found to his horror that he was not insured, and on investigating further, he found that the policy was not regulated by the Financial Services Authority. Mr. and Mrs. Little felt that they were banging their heads against a brick wall when they contacted the FSA and the ombudsman. Will the Minister ask the appropriate Department to examine that case? Mr. Little has proved through his bank statements that his policy should have covered his present circumstances. I would have expected Lloyds TSB to have behaved better than it appears to have done on that matter. Will the Minister find out why that bank is selling insurance policies that are not regulated by the FSA?
I am happy to keep spending my £5 each week on the national lottery, and I am not totally embittered that I have not won too much money, but it is an absolute disgrace that my Southend, West constituency continues to be third from the bottom in the list of the 659 constituencies for receiving lottery funds. Why is it right that Southend receives £1 million while Greenwich and Woolwich receives £689,209,982? In other words, Southend, West receives 0.002 per cent. of that received by Greenwich and Woolwich. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to have a word with the appropriate authorities to ensure that Southend, West gets a far better share of national lottery funding.
Finally, I hope that the House, given its jolly atmosphere as we approach the Easter recess, will join me in congratulating Southend United—the Shrimpers—on reaching the final of the LDV Vans trophy. I was delighted to travel by car, with my family, to the venue for last Sunday's final. It was a 430-mile round trip. Thousands of people from Southend went. We lost the match 2–0. The first goal was definitely offside, and I shall not go into too much detail about the second, but I congratulate the team—including the manager, Steve Tilson, and the chairman, Ron Martin—on an absolutely magnificent job and on representing our town so well.
At the end of term, one has a dilemma: whether to rush back to the delights of one's constituency, or to remain here to the end in the hope of making a telling contribution in the interest of one's constituents. If my colleagues in government are moved to respond to my plea today, the self-denial involved in not rushing back will have been worth while.
My concern is similar to that of other Members: transport. Although my constituency is only 60 miles from London and 40 miles from the channel tunnel, Hastings is the 28th poorest town in Britain, and the reason is transport. As a result of the Government's commitment to regeneration, we are doing much better than we were, but Hastings remains the 28th poorest town in Britain. We have received £50 million in regeneration money, which equates to £1,000 per household. Compared with the £18.50 shortfall in council tax contribution per household, that constitutes a pretty good profit. Under the leadership of councillor Jeremy Birch, the brilliant Hastings borough council is making a difference.
Transport remains an encumbrance. The rail links are awful and despite the nice new trains, it takes two hours to get to London. Two hours is a long time to travel 60 miles. The line linking us to Europe consists of a single track, so if a breakdown occurs, Europe is closed.
I want to concentrate, though, on the A21. It is known locally as the "snail trail", but it is worse than that, because snails do not travel that slowly. A21 users cannot travel fast, and when they try to do so lots of accidents occur. It is a very dangerous road—perhaps one of the most dangerous in Britain. Indeed, it is credited with changing British history. It is said that King Harold was held up on the A21 on his way to the battle of Hastings, and that as a result William was well ensconced before the battle commenced. It is certainly true that using the A21 to travel back to one's constituency is an exhausting experience.
We have been promised improvements and I am pleased to say that one such—the Lamberhurst bypass—is under way. But my first plea is that we need more. I ask the Government to announce very soon the other planned improvements to the A21 south of Lamberhurst.
My final point—it is the real reason that I asked to speak today—relates to a particular decision of the Highways Agency and the way in which such decisions are taken, of which I learned only this morning. The agency has decided to de-dual the only stretch of dual carriageway road between my constituency and Pembury. Some 1.7 km of dual carriageway—the only stretch of that road on which one can overtake—will be turned into a single carriageway. That is a crazy decision. It was taken because many accidents occur there, but I wish that the agency would consult local Members before taking such decisions. Indeed, perhaps it should have consulted Ministers on this decision, given that it was a wholly administrative one.
Of course, if de-dualling takes place the accidents will simply be displaced. If the road consists of 15 miles of single carriageway and people have to wait for an opportunity to overtake that does not come, they will take even more dangerous decisions. It is a bit like crime. Although I am happy that it is falling overall, some of it gets displaced, and the same applies to accidents.
My final plea is for the Minister to pass on my concerns to his colleagues in the Department for Transport. First, let us soon hear departmental announcements about improvements to the A21. Secondly, please do not de-dual the only piece of dual carriageway on the road. While we are waiting for the main announcements, let us find other methods of ensuring better safety on that very dangerous road.
I have raised the issue of Cyprus in many previous Adjournment debates, and it is particularly appropriate to do so again today, because it was decided only yesterday that there will be a referendum on
I have wanted a free, united and democratic Cyprus for as long as I can remember. Now that we are on the threshold of a decision, I should be pleased. Yet I am not. More importantly, tens of thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots are not pleased either. There is particular anger in the Greek Cypriot community in Cyprus and in this country—and for some very good reasons. I should like to mention just a few of those reasons to give a flavour of the failings of the Annan proposals.
Annan does away with the many UN resolutions against Turkey concerning Cyprus. Annan suggests that many of the cases against Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights should be withdrawn. Annan will allow a continuing Turkish military presence in Cyprus. Annan proposes an almost two-state Cyprus, as was always wanted by the putative leader of the occupied territory, Mr. Denktash. Annan allows no real freedom of movement. Annan allows decades before property and land will be sorted out for the 200,000 Greek Cypriots who fled in 1974 as a result of the Turkish occupation.
Annan does not guarantee full functionality so that the new state can function smoothly within the EU. Annan does not resolve the situation of the enclaved and does not allow voting rights for the hundreds of thousands of Greek Cypriots affected by the occupation in 1974 who now live abroad, but he does allow the voting rights of the tens of thousands of Anatolians who were imported into Cyprus from Turkey.
I have not exhausted the reasons for the genuine anger of the Greek Cypriots, and I have not noted the anger of Turkish Cypriots who feel politically emasculated by the Turkish presence. Our Government, in their rush to sort out one problem and commence on another problem—to start negotiating with Turkey for EU membership—back up all that confusion and anger. I sincerely hope that the Foreign Office will bear those difficulties in mind. I also hope that the Greek Cypriots will vote no in the referendum on
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's list and I noticed that he failed to mention that Annan also makes no proposals to provide incentives for settlers to return to mainland Turkey. That is another negative point about the Annan proposals.
We have had an excellent debate. As is always the case with such debates, it showed the House in its best light, as right hon. and hon. Members on both sides raised subjects of genuine concern to them and their constituents. We have even heard about the Shrimpers, who I gather were robbed by a referee's decision—that, at least, is the view of my hon. Friend Mr. Amess.
Dr. Vis raised the subject of Cyprus, as did other Members. The whole House sends the people of Cyprus our wish that they find a way forward that unites them and enables them to join the European Union as one country.
Indeed. But the widely shared concerns that have been expressed are about the exact mechanics of the process.
There was much discussion of the situation in Wales and of the Richard commission. Unfortunately, Llew Smith is no longer in the Chamber, as I wanted to give him some extremely bad news from a book called "Ayes to the Left", written in 1995 by the present Leader of the House, and in which he describes the future for Wales. He wrote:
"A Welsh Parliament would begin by having its own legislative powers confined . . . But in time—and as Britain moved towards a federal structure—greater legislative and revenue raising powers could be obtained."
That was a straw in the wind in 1995.
Ian Lucas came up with a principle that found strong support on the Conservative Benches—indeed, we might even describe it in future as the Lucas principle. It was that there should be a referendum on matters that involve constitutional changes. That is a principle that finds ready acceptance among my hon. Friends and, indeed, among Members on both sides of the House—even the Liberal Democrats appear to be nodding.
The Ulster border poll. Not everyone can remember that. The hon. Gentleman is clearly a strong Unionist. His attack on the National Assembly for Wales may have been slightly veiled, but he clearly was not keen that the Assembly should succeed in its ambition to have the right to make primary legislation. He was not at all keen on what the Assembly had done to the health service in Wales, and he seemed to feel that the lack of top-up fees in Wales would cause considerable difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, went all the way. He said that the bonfire of the quangos had not occurred and made it extremely clear that he would resist giving the Assembly any further powers. It would be interesting to hear from the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons—especially given his boss's position—what his perspective is on those issues. Will he follow what the present Leader of the House was saying in 1995, so that the process is more and more in favour of a devolved Parliament; or will he tell us that enough is enough and that, in the words of my hon. Friend Mr. Wilkinson, the Richard commission has got far too big for its boots?
John Cryer made some interesting remarks—as usual. I recall especially his comments on mobile phone masts—a subject of concern to Members on both sides of the House. I am certainly concerned; indeed, last night I presented a petition from Royston with 1,633 signatures. The petition was against a mast that NTL had to remove because it did not comply with planning permission, but the company plans to put it up again right next to a primary school, so of course parents are saying that they may have to take their children away from the school. EDF, the owner of the site, has offered to forgo the rent if NTL leaves the site, so its contractual obligations would cease. A local councillor, Tony Hunter, spent hours looking for an alternative site, yet when he found one, NTL would not even negotiate with the land agents. The subject is dear to my heart, and I shall mention it again—that is a promise.
We had some very interesting contributions about trains. Mr. Foster mentioned his service in Hastings. We heard a strong plea for the Croxley link, from my hon. Friend Mr. Wilkinson. We also heard a strong plea that the docklands light railway should join up with Hornchurch.
The debate had a rural flavour, with contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). I should not forget that we want Major Perkins to get his tax refund. I hope that the Minister has written that one down.
On law and order, we had contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and a cameo intervention from my hon. Friend Mr. Francois. The point that they were making is that, under this Government, criminals have become quite brazen and are robbing people, even in daylight. There just are not enough police on the beat in south Essex. That is why the local paper is running the strong campaign that we heard about. However, the more general point is that policing seems to have become a very intellectual exercise these days, with intelligence-led policing and a reactive approach to policing. A lot of people believe that a strong, visible police presence on the streets is required if we are to have the firm control that we need in our society.
Ross Cranston referred to terrorism and made some important points about the law. We also heard a strong plea about the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, from my hon. Friend Tony Baldry. I join in his plea to the Government about Nigeria. It is wrong that someone who is clearly a war criminal, or at least indicted as such, should be given safe haven in a Commonwealth country.
On defence, Mr. Tyler again raised the issue of equipment for our armed forces. It seems shocking that there are three examples in a relative small area of the country where the kit that the armed forces need simply was not available. Although he did not mention this, one of the most startling parts of the report on the issue was the reference to tanks not having the correct filters to deal with certain weapons of mass destruction. The Government's reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, so to send our boys in to fight in tanks that did not have the kit to deal with such weapons seems very irresponsible. Time should be made available to debate that issue and for the Government to make a statement about what will happen, as well as to debate the investigations issue that the hon. Gentleman raised.
My right hon. Friend Virginia Bottomley raised castles and conveniences, Mr. Varah's early departure from the probation service and Abbeyfield homes. I should be grateful if the Minister touched on those issues in replying to the debate.
The debate has been wide ranging, touching on subjects of importance in many areas and covering geography as far apart as Sierra Leone, Guatanamo bay and the docklands light railway. It is traditional on these occasions to wish all hon. Members on both sides of the House a very merry and happy Easter recess, and I am happy to do so, especially to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also thank all the people who do so much in the House of Commons to help Members—all the staff who work here, the Clerks and those who keep us safe.
I start by echoing the final remarks of Mr. Heald and thanking, on behalf of all right hon. and hon. Members, the staff who work in this place in many different capacities. It is particularly worth mentioning, given the events that have taken place in the Palace and outside during the Session, the debt of gratitude that we all owe to the security and police forces. They put their lives on the line every day and we struggle to remember to wear our passes. We should put that in perspective.
I echo also the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the nature of these debates. They are extremely wide ranging and it is difficult comprehensively to respond to them. I apologise in advance if I do not do so. However, I undertake to bring to the attention of Ministers the points that have been made where Members have requested that I do so. I know that some of the issues that have been raised have been by letter as well as by parliamentary questions.
The debate has been amazingly wide ranging. I shall start with the important defeat of the Shrimpers. I think that it was 2–0. There was a contest over the first goal. For the sake of balance, I say on behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) that I think that it was not offside. Congratulations should be due to all those involved.
Mention was made of football teams in other Members' constituencies, or at least where many supporters of those teams live—namely, Liverpool and Manchester United. It is always a good idea to get in the names of football teams. It is always a good idea also to get in the name of the local newspaper. I congratulate those Members who have done that. I would not be so foolish as to criticise anyone for doing so.
I shall now try to respond to the debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) referred to the Richard commission, which reported today. I agree in every aspect with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the report. It is a report to the National Assembly for Wales and, in the first instance, it is for the Assembly to consider it. The Government will be responding appropriately to the report in future.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has gone on record as saying that he supports the alternative vote system and not the single transferable vote system. John Cryer and others raised points about proportional representation, and I can agree with them in that context.
Mr. Tyler talked about some important points that he has taken up with the Ministry of Defence. I know from previous debates and from seeing correspondence that the MOD is aware of his concerns. They will note the points that he has raised during the debate.
Virginia Bottomley apologised to the House for being unable to remain in her place. She was kind enough to inform me that Peter Bottomley would take her place, as it were. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her courtesy. She raised a number of matters, including some policy issues, and made some requests. She asked me to encourage a reply from the Department for Education and Skills on the next steps on the Farnham castle issue. I shall certainly draw that to the attention of the Department. The right hon. Lady referred to the Surrey Institute of Art and Design students, who had lobbied her. She said that she thought that they would be lobbying her on behalf of student debt. Ironically, I remember 20 years ago lobbying the right hon. Lady when she was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Minister of State, Chris Patten, on the issue of student debt. Perhaps things have come full circle. However, students now are immeasurably better off due to the generosity of Government support. I could go into the figures.
The right hon. Lady said that she was lobbied on behalf of the British Toilet Association. She was pleased, but surprised, to discover that there was such an association. Indeed, there is an all-party group on public toilets, and a valuable service it does. I believe that my hon. Friend Julie Morgan is the chairperson—at least, she was when I went to the meetings. Toilets are an important part of public services, and the House will be relieved to hear that I was sorry to learn that the students fear that 50 per cent. of the toilets will be lost as a result of the Disability Discrimination Act. It that is true, it is an example of the law of unintended consequences. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, who is doing a fantastic job improving the rights of disabled people, will want to note those points. If that is happening in the constituency of the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey, it could well be happening elsewhere.
The right hon. Lady asked me to raise the matter of Abbeyfield homes with the relevant Minister at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and I am happy to do that. She also raised concerns about the primary care trust. To be fair to her, she acknowledged that her constituents have a growing confidence in the NHS—I believe I quote accurately—and I am glad to hear of her support. She drew attention to difficulties that I assume are local difficulties to do with decisions being taken locally. I shall draw the matter to the attention of the Department of Health.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hurst made one of those interesting speeches that bring a little philosophy, reflection and wisdom to Adjournment debates. I sign up to the idea that what goes around comes around. It is amazing how similar these Adjournment debates are over the many years that they have taken place, if one takes the trouble to read them. I should respond to my hon. Friend's worries about the decline in the powers of local authorities by saying that the examples he gave show that the tide is turning. It is not coming up the beach as quickly as he would like, but the Greater London council has been replaced by the Greater London authority, thanks to the Government's programme. It does not have as many powers as he would like, but I hope he acknowledges that the tide is turning.
Mr. Greenway raised four issues on behalf of his constituents. I shall begin with the most important—the case of Major Richard Perkins, his constituent. I am advised that the Ministry of Defence is trying to resolve the tax status, following the decision by the Veterans Agency to award him his war disablement pension. I am also advised that the case is not straightforward. The MOD is preparing a submission to the Inland Revenue, which is responsible for the final decision. The MOD acknowledges that it has taken some time to resolve the matter and apologises for the inconvenience that that has caused. I ask the hon. Gentleman to pass that on to his constituent, whom all of us would want to help. An 86-year-old ex-soldier deserves our support.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of livestock farmers in north Yorkshire and the CAP reform. I do not know whether he was present for the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on CAP reform, when she described the process that we would be going through. The definition of severely disadvantaged areas is obviously important. The issue arises in my constituency as well.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing that to our attention. His remarks will be noted.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of flooding. He asked me to pass on the special case of Pickering. Anyone who knows his part of the world will be familiar with the problems. He asked for an extension of the scheme or another device to allow the scheme to be put in place. Again, his remarks will be noted.
Would the Minister take this as a representation, which I did not make at business questions? It is necessary for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House about the changes that she is making to her response to reform of the common agricultural policy. Could we have that statement in the first week back?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Secretary of State's statement on
The hon. Member for Ryedale also referred to insurance and terrorism. I believe that I am right in saying that he is a former insurance broker, and obviously the lack of insurance in respect of terrorist activities must be tackled. I believe that the Treasury will be looking at that. He asked for a shot in the arm on that point.
My hon. Friend John Cryer raised a number of local points, as well as a general point about the Richard commission. If I was in a position to sign early-day motions, I would certainly sign early-day motion 930, tabled by him and my hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer. I think that his 40th birthday is due during the Easter recess, so I wish him a happy birthday from all of us.
My hon. Friend rightly criticised his Conservative-controlled council's cavalier and irresponsible attitude to his primary schools and showed how it was not taking into account the needs of the children in his constituency. He raised, as he has done before, the issue of mobile phone masts, and he raised the issue of the docklands light railway, asking for it to be extended to Rainham. That was a successful private finance initiative that came in on time and on budget, and I will be happy to pass on his request to the Secretary of State for Transport. My hon. Friend made a general point about the Richard commission and proportional representation, to which I have referred, and I think that he knows the views of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on that matter.
Mrs. Browning took us to the beautiful villages of Devon, where she wants to encourage us to go for our holidays, and I hope that hon. Members will be able to do so. She talked about the vital villages programme. I know that she is aware that the reorganisation of the budget has led to a curtailment of future budgets for that programme and she may like to take that matter up in more detail. I understand the point that she makes. She referred to Gittisham, which I think appeared in the national press recently, and if what happened there occurred in any of our constituencies we would take a similar attitude. She referred to petrol pumps and called for a little common sense, which we hope can be achieved. She talked about horse safety, as she often does, and the need to protect our horses. She is aware that the schemes that have been put in place are intended to do that, but I know that the equine lobby has concerns about their implementation.
The hon. Lady made probably the longest request ever, which was originally intended for the Prime Minister, at what I could perhaps describe as a virtual Prime Minister's Question Time. I would not dare to presume to answer on behalf of the Prime Minister, except to say that I am always amused that the question regarding the EU constitution referendum is never defined. If one were to say that the constitution was a fundamental change from the treaties of Europe, I could see the case for a referendum. But if one reads the proposed constitution, and I have, it does not fundamentally change the treaties, so it is a bit of a bogus argument.
My hon. and learned Friend Ross Cranston made some interesting points. I am sorry that I am not able to respond to all hon. Members. I was going to give a positive response on the Croxley rail link. We are waiting for the results of the comprehensive spending review before re-examining that. I answered some of the points made by hon. Members from Essex who have had a huge and record increase in the number of police officers, and everyone knows that crime is falling. I am sorry that I cannot go into further details about the success of the economy under the Government, which I would be more than happy to do, but I end by wishing all hon. Members and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a very happy Easter.
It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.