Easter Adjournment

Part of Deferred Division No. 85 – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:32 pm, 29th March 2007

Sadly, my hon. Friend is right. One of the tragedies of the current situation is that our country's significance on the world stage is diminished. Other countries do not listen to us as they used to.

Before I move on to the specific subjects of my speech, let me say something about the Budget. I remember being present in the House when Conservative Chancellors, perhaps thinking that they were being rather clever, produced Budget flourishes. When the current Chancellor came out with the big wheeze at the end of his speech that 2p would be knocked off income tax—despite always saying, "We would never bribe the electorate with tax cuts"—I was not looking at Members of my party, but at the Labour Benches. Labour Members were cock-a-hoop; they were thrilled to bits and were waving their Order Papers. They had probably been a little nervous because the opinion polls had not been good, but yesterday's opinion polls appear to offer encouragement to the Government's supporters. However, the Chancellor—who is soon to be Prime Minister—will regret that Budget. I shall be the first to say that, just as the current Prime Minister's nemesis has been the war with Iraq, this Budget will be the downfall of the next Prime Minister.

I want to raise the issue of east coast fishermen—the Deputy Leader of the House has some expertise in this area—which my hon. Friend Bob Spink will also doubtless hope to catch your eye in order to discuss, Madam Deputy Speaker. I attended a meeting on Monday with the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare, and as ever he was very courteous. He was asked a number of tough questions about what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing to rectify the situation and to save the UK's inshore fleet from ruin. Having reflected on that meeting, I am not sure that we were satisfied by the answers.

The southern North sea inshore fishermen's association and the Kent and Essex sea fisheries committee are battling against ill-thought out regulations produced, in the name of conservation, by DEFRA and the European Fisheries Council that have brought the UK inshore fishing industry to near collapse. This year, the EFC introduced by-catch limits of 25 per cent. on skates and rays. That quota is far too restrictive on individual catches and means that small-scale fishermen such as those in Leigh-on-Sea are legally allowed to land only a couple of those fish per day, which is hardly enough to make a living. The Minister put a different spin on matters, but I believe that there was no consultation whatever on the regulations. Many fishermen continued to fish illegally for six weeks, without even realising that they were doing so.

I welcome the recent DEFRA initiative whereby we exchange some of the British quota of North sea nephrops for German North sea sole, but what a crazy way to do business—swapping to try to deal with what turned out to be a crisis! It was also brought to my attention that it is not just the imposition of quotas per se—for example, 14 different species of skates and rays are classified as one group, ignoring the fact that each species is more abundant in some areas than in others—that is threatening our inshore fleet. Current fishing regulations treat radically different fishing techniques in the same way, which is very unfair. For example, long-lining is subject to the same regulations as beam-trawling. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to have a word with his colleagues and I urge the Government to press the EFC for a quota management review as soon as possible. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point if I have completely ruined his speech. This latest saga is yet another example of how important it is that the UK be properly represented at meetings. It is an absolute disgrace that these quotas were ever agreed to in the first place.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Southend United community and educational trust. Last year, I congratulated Southend United on their imminent promotion to the championship, and this year is the 15th anniversary of their magnificent community programme. They have organised after-schools coaching, holiday soccer weeks and recreational activities for senior citizens, and received all manner of awards, locally, regionally and nationally. I thought this a good opportunity to praise a football team. The team have actively engaged in the debate on obesity, encouraging children to take part in increased levels of physical activity. They specialise in girls-only coaching—that will doubtless meet with the favour of my hon. Friend Angela Browning—and they have organised body care and healthy living programmes that give children a better understanding of how to keep their bodies healthy. They have also introduced programmes such as "getting on with the blues"—actually, that is not a bad slogan for my party—and they target antisocial behaviour and support activities that assist local charities and voluntary groups. So Southend United are doing a splendid job, and I am quietly confident that we will retain our place in the championship.

I do not remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether you were in the Chair during the Christmas Adjournment debate, but I mentioned that the centenarians in Southend had set a world record. I am delighted to tell the House that this week that was formally recognised by "Guinness World Records" and I received a certificate on behalf of the centenarians. They participated in the largest ever gathering of centenarians. The previous record was 21 and we have now pushed that up to 23. The way that things are going in Southend, I am confident that we will be able to beat that record later this year. People are living much longer. In 1850, for example, people lived to 40 on average, but now it is no longer surprising to knock on a door—as we will all be doing in the local elections—and have it answered by a person of 90, 95 or even 100 years.

We should have more investment in several areas to ensure that the sight, hearing, mobility and general health of elderly people is maintained. That is why I am delighted that my party is leading the way in the national debate on the quality of life. If the Government accepted that agenda, it would reduce the demand on care services. For instance, age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness and visual impairment in the UK. However, early diagnosis and prompt treatment can prevent the rapid loss of vision.

I am closely associated with the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, which has drawn to my attention the postcode lottery that many rheumatoid arthritis sufferers experience when trying to gain access to treatment that would improve their condition significantly. Despite the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence approving anti-tumour necrosis factor-alpha therapy for rheumatoid arthritis in 2002, many primary care trusts refuse to fund its use adequately or they put a cap on the numbers of patients that can be treated. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass that message on to the Health Secretary.

The report by the Communities and Local Government Committee on small coastal towns was published on 7 March. I and other Members who represent coastal towns were concerned because the report said that the Government have no specific policies for coastal towns and that, despite much diversity, they share many common characteristics—physical isolation, deprivation levels, inward migration of older people, high levels of transients, outward migration of older people, poor-quality housing and the nature of the coastal economy. There is a high proportion of elderly people in our coastal resorts; I have already mentioned the number of centenarians living in Leigh. I hope that the Government will adopt a national approach to promote and support seaside tourism. Like many other hon. Members, I supported the national tourism week at the beginning of March and I was pleased to learn that the photograph that we submitted from Leigh-on-Sea was in pride of place at the exhibition in Regent's street. Tourism brings in £85 billion to the UK, so it would be in all our interests to adopt a national coastal tourism strategy, similar to that in Wales.

I recently visited Princes Avenue school and was greeted by the excellent head teacher, Mrs. Sandy Fletcher, who sadly retires today, and her deputy, Miss Judy Kaufman. They drew my attention to a survey of 5,863 people, which found that 38 per cent. of parents had taken their children on holiday in term time. All hon. Members realise that that happens because families can save £500 on the cost of holidays, but it disrupts schooling. More and more people are doing it, and the Government recognise that. The Association of British Travel Agents comes out with a lot of codswallop about responding to market forces, but I would like to see a little responsibility being exercised. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers blames parents. I am not brave enough to blame parents, but there must be a way round this—I will not call it a third way—and I hope that we can find a solution.

Another success for Southend is the fact that the YMCA has won the community impact award presented by the Prince's Trust for its short film entitled, "Killer in a Can". Despite having no knowledge of how to make a film, a team of 11 young people decided to raise awareness of the dangers of substance abuse after learning about the subject. They raised £800 to make the film by themselves. It has been shown on national television and used by Essex police. Is not that a good reason to celebrate the excellent work of our young people?

I make no apology for quickly mentioning buses again. We do not have enough buses in Southend, particularly for our elderly people. Why not? It is because 20,000 people were left off the national census in Southend, and so we have no funding for 20,000 people. I hope that a bus company that does not need a subsidy will come forward to provide extra services and that some generous individual or company might come forward with some money to subsidise those services.

Leigh-on-Sea town council is wonderful and is working hard with local businesses to get CCTV installed in a shopping centre. We cannot afford the capital cost of installation and, again, I hope that a benefactor may come forward.

A constituent, Gareth Rogerson, suffered 70 per cent. burns—they are full thickness burns—following a terrible car accident. He is a remarkable person and his family are very proud of him. His hands melted, so he has no hands. Some of us were privileged this week to meet Simon Weston, who suffered 46 per cent. burns—so we can imagine the bravery of this chap. He has friends in Limehouse whom he goes to meet. On a number of occasions, he has been stopped on the train for not being in possession of a valid rail ticket. Prosecutions have been mounted, but I will not name the organisation. The issue is being dealt with. I assume that Gareth is not the only person in this situation. I know that it will be said that he should buy the ticket in advance and have it hanging on a piece of chain around his neck, but surely, given the extreme circumstances, can this not be dealt with differently? How anyone could bring the matter to a magistrates court hearing is beyond belief.

Finally, as it is Easter, I come to badgers. The badgers in our area have got together and decided that they like all sorts of back gardens in Southend. I spoke on Third Reading of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which made badgers a protected species. I regret none of that but, 20 years on, I must confess that I had no idea of the impact of that legislation. To move badgers humanely from gardens is an issue. They are into the foundations, garages are collapsing and people cannot go into their back gardens—and I am not exaggerating. We all love badgers, although we should not stroke them, because they have powerful jaws and teeth. The issue needs to be dealt with.

I end by wishing everyone a happy Easter.