Christmas Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 6:00 pm, 20th December 2005

I shall speak on three items. Several Members have raised the issue of the reorganisation and reconfiguration of both our local police and our health services. I shall speak particularly about the proposed reconfiguration in Greater Manchester, and especially about the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS trust.

During health questions earlier today, Mr. Gordon Prentice raised the issue of the closure of the accident and emergency unit at Burnley hospital. Rochdale hospital faces a similar situation, as well as the loss of its maternity and paediatric services. Such loss of services will have a dramatic effect on people in my constituency and also on those in the Rossendale valley, because they will be faced with a journey to Blackburn or to Oldham. In dangerous situations where minutes count, that is not very good.

The friends of our hospital—a group that has been set up and chaired by Father Arthur Neary in my constituency—and the local newspaper, the Rochdale Observer, are campaigning against these changes. I hope that once the consultation starts in the new year we will begin to see the Government listening and taking note of the real concerns that are felt by my constituents.

Secondly, there is the issue of housing. Like many Members, I receive many requests for re-housing and so on. I was shocked this week when I received a statistic telling me that every council house in Rochdale is being chased by 34 people. I never thought that I would see the day when it would be impossible for people in Rochdale to get a house when they needed one. However, many people are sleeping on floors and living in extremely unsatisfactory conditions.

I know that Shelter recently organised or launched a campaign to convince the Government that they need to increase the availability of socially rented houses that are being built. No doubt we will be told by the Deputy Leader of the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his recent statement, announced some changes. However, those changes are too little and too late, and will not meet the real housing crisis in Rochdale, across the borough.

My hon. Friend Mr. Heath talked about the tsunami, and we are approaching its first anniversary. I know that a statement was issued last week about the arrangements for memorial services. I was off the island of Phi Phi at the time of the tsunami. I know that I am very lucky to be here in this place. I know also of the devastation that was wreaked by the tidal wave. I am still concerned by the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—I know that many of the relatives of those who lost their lives feel this—in offering support to those who were injured and to those who lost loved ones.

There has been a joint National Audit Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office report on the matter. A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on the subject. I know that many of the relatives are extremely dissatisfied by the response and support offered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am referring particularly to the support that was offered in Thailand. It is a fact that the Government chartered only one plane and sent it to Bangkok and not to Phuket. Given the support that was offered by many other European Governments, a stark contrast is to be drawn. I see that the Minister is shaking his head, but at no stage was I offered any support or help. Thankfully, I and my friends were safe, but I know of others who were suffering. What arrived, arrived late—days after the help that came from other countries. Many people were left to make arrangements for themselves whereas they could and should have had support offered to them by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Having read the report, I know that the Department says that it has learned the lessons. I certainly hope so, because the services that were offered were not very helpful.

I pay tribute, however, to the Thai Government, who were very helpful, and assisted us in finding alternative accommodation. They also helped many of the injured. As I said, I hope that the British Government have learned lessons from the disaster. Like many others, I shall go to the area in a few days' time, and I hope that people remember those who lost their lives.

Finally, I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Mr. Speaker and everyone associated with the House all the best for the new year and Christmas.