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Adjournment (Christmas)

Volume 377: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2001

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Wednesday 19th December, do adjourn until Tuesday 8th January— [Mrs. McGuire.]

6.54 pm

I want to talk about Cyprus. I am the chairperson of the Commonwealth parliamentary all-party Cyprus group. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House, some of whom are present in the Chamber, belong to that all-party group.

The United Kingdom has a long association with Cyprus. We are one of the guarantor powers for the Republic of Cyprus, which is a member of the Commonwealth. Since the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the island has been divided. More than 30 per cent. of northern Cyprus is occupied by the Turkish army, which led that invasion. Since 1974, there have been many debates and many questions in the House on the policy of the Government of the day towards working for an honourable settlement of the tragedy in Cyprus. We have always been told that the Government support an honourable settlement, and work on the basis of the resolutions on Cyprus that have been passed by the United Nations. Those statements are to be welcomed, but sadly they have achieved nothing over those many years. The division and occupation of Cyprus remain. Over that period, there have been many opportunities to work for a settlement, but regrettably none of them have succeeded.

I had a debate in the House some years ago on the future of Famagusta. It is now a deserted town, but prior to the invasion it was one of the most popular towns in the whole of the Cyprus. We were led to believe by Mr. Denktash, who speaks for the Turkish Cypriots of northern Cyprus, that Famagusta would be returned. Greek and Turkish Cypriots could have lived together, worked together and started to build a future that would have insured their rights and security. Sadly, as so often happens, Mr. Denktash refused to honour the commitment that he made.

Years and years have passed, and the occupation of a sizeable percentage of a Commonwealth country continues. We have had countless meetings and discussions with senior diplomats. Politicians have been to Cyprus and have met the President of the Republic and Mr. Denktash. Sadly, nothing has happened, despite many attempts to achieve a breakthrough.

Two major developments have now taken place in Cyprus that offer hope for a future for both communities on that island. First, there is a clear indication that the Republic of Cyprus will become a member of the European Union, possibly in 2004. Secondly, Mr. Denktash is now aware that he and his closest ally, Turkey, have achieved nothing since 1974. All the evidence shows that the economy in northern Cyprus is in a terrible condition, and that vast numbers of true Turkish Cypriots want a settlement and the whole of Cyprus to become a member of the European Union. I warmly welcome that.

The great strength of the all-party Cyprus group is that we have always clearly said that the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots are as important to us as the rights and security of Greek Cypriots. That has always been the cornerstone of the speeches that many hon. Members have made over many years.

Turning to the present, I believe that there is now an excellent opportunity for a progressive future to be developed on the island of Cyprus. I welcome the discussions that are now taking place between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash. Those talks will not be easy, but that will be a test of what both men are able to achieve. I am in no doubt as to the commitment of President Clerides to work with all his might and power for an honourable settlement.

If one considers, for example, the application of the Republic of Cyprus to become a member of the European Union, Mr. Denktash has had countless opportunities presented to him by President Clerides to join him in a joint Denktash-Clerides presentation for the whole of the island of Cyprus to be involved in the discussions of its application. However, as we know, Mr. Denktash has only one reply to those invitations: "Recognise northern Cyprus as an independent state or I am not interested in taking part in any discussions." The United Nations does not recognise an independent state of northern Cyprus, the EU most certainly does not, and neither does the Council of Europe. The only country that recognises that so-called state, in being only because of the Turkish army, is Turkey.

We have recently heard statements by the Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister that if the Republic of Cyprus is allowed membership of the European Union, Turkey will consider annexing the whole of northern Cyprus. I tabled a written question on the issue earlier this year and I received a reply from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, which said:
"The suggestion that Turkey might 'annex' north Cyprus, in the event of Cyprus joining the EU before a settlement, is not new. While it is difficult to predict what Turkey might do if a divided island were to join the EU, we believe that the 'annexation' of northern Cyprus would severely compromise Turkey's relations with the EU, and contravene her obligations under the Treaty of Guarantee. However, our aim continues to be a settlement before Cyprus joins the EU, though we stand by the Helsinki Council Conclusions that it is not a precondition for enlargement."—[Official Report, 22 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 401W.]
I hope that that statement is made clearly and often to Turkey. It should be told, "Annex northern Cyprus and you have no European future."

President Clerides made a speech at the United Nations in New York on 11 November, in which he said:
"I urge the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Denktash, to join me in sharing the vision of a Cyprus too small to be divided but huge for the common prosperity of all its inhabitants. I urge him to look to the future and not to the past, listen to the increasingly desperate voices of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots and stop placing obstacles, at each turn, to the good offices of the Secretary-General for a solution to the Cyprus problem. It is noteworthy that the economic prospects for a post-settlement Cyprus are truly impressive. And this growth will be even greater for our Turkish Cypriot compatriots, who are currently suffering due to the dire political and economic situation in the occupied areas."
What clearer commitment could there be on the part of the President of the Republic of Cyprus that he wishes to work with Mr. Denktash for the benefit of all the people who live on the island of Cyprus? The next round of discussion that takes place between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash will be in mid-January, and I hope that the talks will succeed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind the fact that those talks will be based on the resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations, because they will be the cornerstone to any settlement of the long-running tragedy of Cyprus.

I want those talks to succeed, but we expect Cyprus to become a member of the EU in 2004. I hope that Mr. Denktash will not attempt to say, "We are now in talks. Let us put off membership of the EU until the talks between Mr. Clerides and me have been concluded." Any attempt to make such an argument should be totally opposed, and I reiterate the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe that a settlement is not a precondition for entry to the EU by the Republic of Cyprus. The coming months will be vital to Cyprus. The opportunity is there for a settlement and I and many others want to see Cypriots, be they Greek or Turkish, living and working together and building a stable and prosperous future for their country that they and their families can all enjoy.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order to point out that if all hon. Members took eight minutes for their contributions, everyone would have a chance to speak.

How long Members speak for is entirely a matter for them, not for the Chair.

7.7 pm

Although the House has debated the events that followed 11 September, and in Afghanistan, on many occasions, including this afternoon, it should not rise before considering how to eliminate the causes of international terrorism, and how to deal with those responsible for it. The events of 11 September have put terrorism under greater scrutiny than ever before. Of course, it remains a regular experience on the streets of Israel and other countries including our own. Its most recent and greatest victim, the United States, is rightly determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. It also regards this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to eliminate all such threats and sources of international terrorism for as long as it takes. But that will not be enough.

We also need to address those causes that inspire such a capacity for hatred to commit such acts, including suicide attacks. Those who were immediately responsible for planning and carrying out the hijacking over the United States came from mixed backgrounds. Some came from privileged and prosperous families, as has bin Laden himself who, according to Peter Bergen's book, "Holy War Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden", is primarily motivated by American policies in the middle east, above all its presence in Saudi Arabia. Many of bin Laden's supporters are merely interested in provoking a clash between the west and Islam, or are seeking an end to what they see as Israel's hegemony, supported by the United States, in the middle east.

Al-Qaeda recruits come from many countries, some of them impoverished, nearly all of them undemocratic. In response to the first problem, impoverishment—if one has nothing, one has nothing to lose—we must, of course, respond positively to Kofi Annan' s appeal, repeated on receiving the Nobel peace prize a few weeks ago, for the UN to eliminate world poverty. We are regularly informed by the Chancellor of Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development about the poverty reduction strategy, which was recently discussed at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting in Ottawa, which the United Kingdom supports and which aims to halve world poverty by the year 2015.

One of the reasons most frequently cited as justifying terrorism—although, of course, there can be no justification—is the denial of human and minority rights, which we rightly seek to address in insisting on good governance in our aid and development programmes. But there is more that can be done to promote human rights and democratic institutions, as President Clinton urged in his brilliant Dimbleby lecture at the weekend, to reduce the causes of terrorism.

A number of colleagues from the Assembly of the Council of Europe are present this evening. The House will know that the Council of Europe was established after the last war as the forum within which our continent's disputes could be resolved by peaceful means, instead of causing countries to go to war every generation. For more than 50 years, it has accumulated a wealth of experience among its 43 member states in democratic practices, the protection of rights and recognition of cultural diversity.

The Council's Political Affairs Committee is ably led by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis), who wishes to be associated with my remarks. Next year, that Committee will come forward with a report on best practice on autonomies and confederations short of outright independence. We hope that this will contribute to resolving the remaining disputes in Europe such as Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia, Transdneistre, Chechnya, and perhaps even Kosovo and Cyprus.

This work could also be usefully applied elsewhere, such as Sri Lanka and Kashmir and other areas that are the sources of terrorism. In addition, we are promoting our democratic standards, which are the highest in the world, to our Arab neighbours in north Africa and to the five central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union through co-operation agreements, and by offering them observer status to our Assembly.

We are considering how we can assist the new African Union, which recently replaced the Organisation for African Unity as the pan-continental institution. It proposes to establish its own court of justice, monitoring procedures and an inter-parliamentary assembly. In 1998, we endorsed well researched and realistic proposals as to how the principal breeding grounds for terrorism in the middle east—the 49 Palestinian refugee camps—could be closed down after 53 years, in favour of permanent settlements. Those camps were the subject of my Adjournment debate on 29 April 1998, and I believe that they are just as relevant today.

I mention these initiatives for the record, because not all of them have been referred to in the House with regard to what is being done by Europe's pre-eminent institution, the Council of Europe, not least to combat the roots of international terrorism. Of course, to be fully effective, the initiatives require the acknowledgement and support of our Committee of Ministers—effectively, our Governments. They also require the resources that will be necessary. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is listening, because the Council of Europe continues to experience zero real growth in its funding.

In conclusion, I want to refer to one particular aspect of the recommendations that the Council of Europe endorsed two weeks after 11 September. The recommendations concerned the threat to democracy posed by international terrorism, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill was the rapporteur.

We regard the new International Criminal Court as the appropriate institution to consider terrorist acts. We have called on member states and the Committee of Ministers to give urgent consideration to amending and widening the Rome statute to allow the remit of the court to include acts of international terrorism.

Of course, we hope that the United States, following the events of 11 September, will now support, and not oppose, the establishment of the court. Unfortunately, next year, whereas the whole world will hear the evidence against Slobodan Milosevic at the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, the United States proposes to try the 11 September terrorists behind closed doors in a military court, in which not even the defendants will hear all the evidence against them before being sentenced to death.

I believe that the entire world will expect justice to be done—and to be seen to be done—towards those who were responsible for the events of 11 September. Just as it was right to try the Nazi leaders for their war crimes at an international court at Nuremberg, so should any future Osama bin Laden be tried for crimes against humanity in an international court, as we propose.

I am encouraged that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers is studying this proposal, which I hope our Government will now actively pursue.

7.14 pm

These pre-recess debates normally involve hon. Members raising constituency issues. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) once said that the day of the pre-Christmas Adjournment debates should be rechristened "Whingeing Gits Day". The fact that I happened to glance at the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) when I said that is purely coincidental.

I want to raise a number of constituency cases. The first involves the home energy efficiency scheme. My constituent Mrs. Goodchild is entitled to a hot water and heating boiler under the scheme. The catch is that she has been entitled to it for seven months but it has still not been fitted.

The boiler should have been fitted by Eaga Partnerships, a Government agency. I am worried that Eaga is completely unresponsive to the needs of my constituents. It is probably unresponsive to the needs of constituents of many other hon. Members. Eaga has refused to return Mrs. Goodchild's calls. It even refused to return the calls that I made in the first day or two after I took up the case. That is extraordinary.

I have been trying to get a pledge from Eaga that my constituent will have the boiler that she needs fitted by Christmas, but even that is not guaranteed. That is simply not good enough. The Government must monitor agencies and partnerships such as Eaga, and ensure that they do the work that they are commissioned to do. If they are not doing that work, some reorganisation might be required—or even the curtailment of contracts.

The second issue that I want to raise is the mis-selling of electricity and gas supplies by energy companies. To illustrate the problem, I shall read an extract from a letter that I sent to Energy Watch on 20 March this year. The letter dealt with Powergen and one other company. I wrote that my constituent
"has never received anything in writing as far as he is concerned. He has never entered into any contract, verbal or otherwise, agreeing to transfer his supplies to Powergen. He was previously with British Gas and Eastern Electricity. Despite this, Powergen have taken over his supplies, and to cap it all it appears that Powergen now wish to take over his telephone supply as well."
My constituent had never signed anything or agreed to anything. He merely had a brief telephone call with Powergen and later discovered that his supplies had been switched. That seems to be happening on a widespread basis. Other hon. Members have told me that they have encountered similar cases.

I secured an apology from Powergen, which has since entered into a voluntary agreement across the industry. The agreement supposedly guarantees that people who are the victims of the practice will be switched back to their original suppliers. However, I do not think that this incident is a one-off, as Powergen tried to claim. Although the evidence is only sporadic, I think that this is happening on a widespread basis.

I am not a nationalist about the utilities any more than I am a nationalist about anything else, but Eastern Electricity, which supplies power to people in my constituency and the surrounding areas, was bought out some time ago by the Texas Corporation. Decisions are made thousands of miles away in that massive company's corporate boardroom. It is therefore hardly surprising that the corporation is not responsive to people in Hornchurch, Rainham or elsewhere.

When the utilities were publicly owned, we at least could put pressure on them. Ministers were responsible for the functioning of the utilities, and we could hold them to account. If it were up to me, I would take the utilities back into public ownership in a moment. Sadly, I am not the Chancellor—not yet, anyway.

Finally, many hon. Members have been concerned about the campaign being run by Mencap, and many of us will have received postcards from that organisation. The campaign deals with sexual offences against vulnerable adults with learning difficulties. I have corresponded extensively with the Havering branch of Mencap, and with the large number of constituents who have sent the postcards to me and to other hon. Members.

The law dealing with sexual offences against people with learning difficulties is way out of date. The Sexual Offences Act 1956 covers only those who are unable to give consent. In other words, it deals only with people who have very severe learning difficulties, not with those who have moderate or mild learning difficulties. It carries a maximum sentence of only two years, which is roughly the same as people get for burglary and robbery. That tariff should be raised considerably. The offence should carry a life sentence, like rape.

Mencap argues that the offence under the 1956 Act should be replaced with the offence of
"having sexual relations with a person with a severe learning disability who is unable to consent to that sexual activity".
That clearly applies to people with severe learning difficulties.

There should also be a test of capacity, and a definition of that capacity, of a person's ability to consent. That would cover people with moderate learning disabilities. The Law Commission recommended the following as a definition of lack of capacity, saying that the victim
"is unable by reason of mental disability to make a decision for himself or herself on the matter in question; or he or she is unable to communicate his or her decision on that matter because he or she is unconscious or for any other reason."
That would create a modern, concise and rational basis on which the law could be moved forward.

I know that the Government are consulting on these issues. They produced a document called "Setting the Boundaries: Reforming the Law on Sex Offences" in July last year. As far as I know, the consultation is still continuing. However, may I make a plea that it should be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible so that we can introduce legislation? At present, many people with learning difficulties are in an extremely vulnerable position and do not have the full protection of the law.

7.22 pm

I appreciate being able to address the House before we adjourn for Christmas, because my constituents feel most strongly about a number of issues.

I live in a part of the country that will increasingly have to face private affluence amid public squalor. Since the Government have been in power, they have consistently made spending announcements and then demand—indeed, dictate—unrealistic outcomes from ever constrained resources. One example is the police. The recent settlement for the police meant that although formally they had an increase of 2.3 per cent., it was a 2.6 per cent. fall in real terms. The costs of police pay are going up by 3 per cent. and pensions by 18 per cent. To achieve that, they are given a 2.3 per cent. increase.

The costs in areas such as mine are high, and the police do not benefit from London weighting, so the Metropolitan police force acts as competition. In Surrey, the benefits of London weighting are not reflected in police pay packets, but the costs are still enormous. Constituencies such as mine, which contain rural areas as well as market towns, face additional burdens. For that reason, I co-chair the town and country finance issues group, an association of about 80 constituency Members of Parliament who try to advance their case.

The House will be surprised and shocked to learn that one of the steps that the Surrey police force has taken to attract and retain constables is to provide health care for them. Do any other police forces take the view that the NHS is in such an appalling state that the only way to retain and attract police officers is to provide private health cover?

I have repeatedly addressed the House about what has happened since the Government came to power to create far greater inequalities in health services than ever they inherited. At present, in my area, one person in nine waits for more than a year for in-patient treatment. In the Prime Minister's constituency, that figure is less than one in 100. Year on year, the Government have squeezed the funding in the south-east, quite inappropriately in the light of the appalling cost of living and the difficulty of attracting and retaining public service workers. The Government's response to public service workers is to name and shame.

Today has seen the publication of the National Audit Office report on hospital waiting lists. I know, perhaps as well as anybody in the House, that NHS managers are dedicated public servants who believe in the ethos and values of the NHS. People rarely thank them. I took note of the references that the Prime Minister made to NHS managers in the 18 months before 1997, and in the year following his election. He only ever referred to them as bureaucrats, and in an insulting manner, until, as a result of a number of parliamentary questions, I am pleased to say that he modified his language.

The question that arises from today's report is why so many NHS managers feel so alienated from the leadership of the NHS and driven to such lengths that they will compromise the values that I know they hold. It is because of the political overload and the political imperatives forced on the health service, as in many other public services. Too little value is put on the people who work in the service, and there is too much spin, too many trivial initiatives and constant soundbites.

I would like the Government to take one practical step and admit that they were wrong, and that there should be an independent chief executive of the NHS. They should restore the role of the permanent secretary, who is accountable to Ministers, takes forward the Whitehall battles, sorts out visiting incoming Health Ministers and special advisers who abuse the conventions, and takes responsibility for honours. The permanent secretary could deal with all manner of Whitehall and Westminster matters and allow the chief executive to have the independence and credibility with NHS staff to take forward devolution of the service, instead of centralisation.

It would be hard to exaggerate the despair felt in the health service in my part of the world. The waiting times are appalling; the accident and emergency departments are groaning. Week by week, I receive letters to which the only reply I feel I can give is, "Can you go privately?" When I learned that Surrey police force had taken the decision to provide private health cover for its staff, that made me think that it knew what was happening. It cannot attract and retain staff otherwise; it does not have the confidence in the NHS that I would want it to have.

Before finishing, I shall provide two pieces of positive information. First and foremost, I am delighted that work on Farnham's community hospital has begun. Farnham, Milford and Haslemere were all under threat. A vigorous local campaign has seen them safeguarded. I pay particular tribute to Sir Ray Tindle, the proprietor of the Farnham Herald and other local newspapers for a constructive, energetic and determined contribution to the campaign. Again, the squeeze on social service and health funding in Surrey, along with the cost of living, has meant that nursing and residential homes have been closing, under huge pressure.

The Government must listen to Cheshire Homes, the biggest providers of independent care in the country, the Meath residential homes—another charitable foundation—and Methodist Homes for the Aged. They organise institutions and care for the frail and vulnerable and cannot cope with the insoluble formula with which they are presented. There are ever greater demands and requirements with regard to the standard of care, the criteria and the outcomes, with ever reduced means available. Nevertheless, I shall go round all those community hospitals within the next couple of days and speak with delight about their future, and about the real dedication and commitment of the staff.

I also appreciate the real commitment on the A3 at Hindhead. That is the only single carriageway on the A3 between London and Portsmouth, and contains the first traffic lights that a Scottish Minister would meet on the road between Scotland and Portsmouth, one of our busiest ports. That commitment will unlock the economic development of the south-east, the Portsmouth area and the Isle of Wight, and above all, it will safeguard an especially valuable and important piece of countryside.

In my area, there is real concern that unless the Government think again about our needs and are fairer to a part of the country where a massive amount of tax is raised for the Chancellor, there will be greater disillusion, and the all-party commitment to our welfare state and our welfare services will be jeopardised. The local government settlement, while promising an increase of 2.3 per cent. to all, in fact came through as a real cut for my area. I am pleased that, after the outcry that resulted, the Secretary of State announced that he would maintain his commitment to a 2.3 per cent. increase, but I regret that the increase in local government spending next year will be 7.4 per cent.—not 2.3 per cent. The recycling requirements, the homelessness requirements and the many other burdens on, and expectations from, local government mean that once again, the ends are being demanded but the means are not being delivered.

The situation in south-west Surrey is extremely serious and I ask the Government, please, to listen to our concerns and ensure that—every so often—a Minister visits our area. I spent nine years of my life visiting Leeds, Sheffield, Darlington, Birmingham, Manchester, Halifax and Plymouth. Before I became a Minister I did not know the United Kingdom, but in nine years I spent lots of time visiting every part of the country—whether or not it was represented by a Member of Parliament of my persuasion.

The fact that the Government are highly partisan concerns me deeply. They do not take their responsibilities to the entire country as seriously as they should. When the outcomes—especially in health care—are as appalling as they are in Surrey, the Secretary of State should visit. It is now four and a half years since the Government came to power, but during that time, no senior Minister has visited south-west Surrey.

7.32 pm

As we approach the festive season, with twinkling lights on the Christmas tree, Christmas cards and present wrapping, I shall raise the seasonal issue of fireworks—specifically, their irresponsible and prolonged misuse.

At the end of October and the beginning of November, my local paper was inundated with hundreds of letters of complaint about the misuse of fireworks—as was I. As a result of those complaints, the Grimsby Telegraph launched a campaign for tougher laws on the sale of fireworks. The response was astonishing: more than 1,100 people backed the campaign, while only one person supported the status quo.

I have given the campaign my full backing because people endure months of misery caused by fireworks. I do not know what happens in the constituencies of other hon. Members, but it seems that in north-east Lincolnshire the firework season starts at the beginning of August. That is when the noise begins. As soon as the back-to-school posters go up in Woolworths and other stores, the fireworks are set off.

That shows that the voluntary code of practice on the restriction of sales to three weeks before and one week after 5 November is not working. There is an increasing use of fireworks. Christmas is coming up, so we shall see lots of fireworks. We have them at birthdays, weddings, parties and the celebrations of many of our ethnic communities, such as Diwali and other festivals. Many more fireworks are being used, thus causing more disturbance to many people.

Although the voluntary code restricts the sale of fireworks to the period around 5 November, few people realise that fireworks can also go on sale at this time of year—from the beginning of December and into January. People in my constituency and elsewhere are dreading another outbreak of explosive mayhem at Christmas and the new year.

Many elderly people have been writing to me and to the local paper to complain about fireworks. A war veteran told me that the war was quieter than the months of October and November in Lincolnshire. I am not of a sensitive nature, but, boy, the noise is atrocious. I have received complaints from people who run care homes and residential homes for the elderly, and from mums with young children and babies. Every time there is an explosion the babies start crying again, so the mothers get more and more fractious as the children get more upset.

The noise affects people who are seriously ill or recovering from illness; it affects shift workers and people with pets. Some of the people who got in touch with me have guide dogs. We forget that guide dogs are particularly sensitive to noise, so fireworks can actually disrupt the way in which they work. That is a danger for people who are blind.

The problem is not only one of noise. Increased criminal damage is associated with the misuse of fireworks. Every year there are reports of phone boxes being damaged by fireworks. People play tricks by putting fireworks into car exhausts and letter boxes. Fireworks are thrown at pedestrians, drivers and cyclists. They are thrown at people's windows and doors. There is also cruelty to animals, including tying fireworks to family pets that happen to get in the way of the louts who misuse fireworks—as happens in my constituency. There is a culture of fear and we must tackle it.

I love organised displays and I certainly want them to continue, but it is time to toughen up the voluntary code. A few years ago, I was burgled in early November, and noise was a factor. The dogs next door normally bark when someone they do not know walks down the street, but because of the noise of the fireworks they were barking anyway. The police told me that there is an increase in burglary at that time of year because deterrents such as barking dogs are not as effective as usual. Incidentally, the cats climbed up my new drapes and shredded them, but that is not as important as the fact that people are burgled at a time of year when criminals can use noise to disguise their activities.

The firework safety regulations of 1997 state that sales should be restricted to people "apparently" over 18, but there is no requirement to show proof of age. Certain categories of firework can be sold to people as young as 16. Average 16-year-olds have many restrictions on their lives. They are not allowed to vote, to buy drinks in pubs—although we all know that plenty of them do—or to drive cars, and in England, they cannot get married without parental consent. Yet we allow them access to explosives. That is unacceptable.

Yes, there are penalties for selling fireworks to people under 18. There are also penalties for discharging and throwing fireworks in the street, but how many prosecutions are there for such offences every year? They are few and far between. The code is not working. We must toughen it up because loutish elements misuse fireworks, causing much disturbance and a culture of fear—especially among the groups that I mentioned.

Early in the new year, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) is to bring in a ten-minute Bill on the subject, so I am flagging up the matter now to give the Government ample time, before the Bill is introduced, to tighten up the regulations so that, I hope, 5 November in 2002 and subsequent years will not be as noisy as before, and people can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.

7.40 pm

I would not be content for the House to rise for the Christmas recess without my taking the opportunity to raise again, very briefly, the future of the well known Royal Hospital Haslar. It is a local hospital in my constituency, but it is much more: it is the only military hospital in the United Kingdom. It is well known because I have raised this issue many times.

When defence medical services were in some difficulty, in 1998, a study group set up by the present Government reached the amazing conclusion that the way ahead for defence medical services was to close the only military hospital. The result, of course, has been catastrophic. The decision has turned the situation into a crisis and in four key faculties—anaesthetics, surgery, orthopaedic surgery and general medicine—defence medical services are now some 75 per cent. short of establishment. That is a grievous situation, both for defence medical services, because I believe that the armed forces are now restricted in their ability to deploy because of lack of defence medical services, and for the local community, which has lost its accident and emergency unit.

However, it is not all bad news, because we have had a vigorous campaign, widely supported in the area and by those in the armed forces. The good news is that we now have an accident treatment centre, which does not exactly replace the accident and emergency unit but is a helpful local facility. Moreover, reality has broken in: the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS trust and the health authority both now recognise that Haslar is a crucial and necessary part of the local health scene, and the latest strategic document produced by the national health service, jointly with the Ministry of Defence, called "A Strategic Vision", says that Haslar should continue until at least 2007, and that it should continue to provide a range of services to the armed forces and the civilian population.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) expressed surprise that the police force in Surrey was now using private medical facilities. She and others might be surprised to hear that the armed forces, which have their own military hospital at Haslar, are now required to use civilian medical facilities as well, and a number of individuals have been treated by BUPA and other private medical systems. The problem is that although the immediate operation can be arranged through a private medical facility, if there are any complications, or if aftercare is required, the service man or woman must return to the service hospital at Haslar. In several cases, operations have been carried out in the private sector and the subsequent problems and complications have been handled in the public sector, back in the military hospital.

However, the situation is moving on. We are satisfied with "A Strategic Vision", and if only the words "until at least 2007" could be deleted and the word "indefinitely" substituted we would, I believe, be there.

First, a study group, composed of members of the Royal College of Physicians and others, is leaning towards the view that there needs to be more use of local hospitals. It believes that there is more scope for district diagnostic centres. There is a growing feeling in the medical profession that it is wrong to send all accident and emergency patients first to a district general hospital, from which it is quite often difficult to discharge them, and that it would be a better idea to admit patients first to a local hospital, after which, following proper stabilisation and diagnosis, they might be transferred to the district general hospital if necessary. If that study, which is due to be published before the end of the year, does indeed reveal that local district diagnostic centres should be used more extensively, attention will be drawn to the fact that precisely such facilities can be offered at Haslar, and throughout the rest of the country.

Secondly, there is growing awareness in the royal colleges that it is possible to have joint-centre working—that it is a good idea for trainee doctors at all levels to work partly within a district general hospital and partly within the local hospital community, linked with telemedicine, and that that provides a good range of experience for trainee doctors. Such joint-centre working would allow the Royal Hospital Haslar to work in conjunction with the Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham.

Thirdly, I have written to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Health and urged them to get their act together and have genuinely joined-up government. It is no good for the Ministry of Defence to announce the closure of Haslar without the Department of Health's taking a firm view on the future configuration of hospital services in the area. We now want a plan, jointly worked out by the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health. We want that joint plan to give a future to the whole of the Haslar land area and the Haslar hospital within it, and to additional facilities that could be located in the Haslar complex.

That is the right way ahead. I firmly believe that we are winning. We are working to a plan that, in due course, will prove to be a better way ahead than the Centre for Defence Medicine, which has been located in Birmingham, and is causing some disappointment among those who work there. I believe that we are working our way forward and that the future will be good for Haslar and for the local community.


I want to speak about the Government's treatment of strokes, but first I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, to the Front Bench and take the opportunity to place on the record my thanks to him and his team for what they have done in connection with the modernisation of the House. It is one of the most important things that the Government have done in the past year or so—although I would ask my hon. Friend, despite the self-discipline of hon. Members tonight, to consider a mandatory speech limit, to enable Members to plan with some certainty. Unfortunately, the other evening seven Labour Members fell off the end of the Speaker's list in the European debate. It is perfectly within our compass in the House to impose such a limit, to help hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Government's treatment of strokes is obviously an extremely important issue, and I have several questions that I hope that my hon. Friend will put to the Secretary of State for Health on my behalf as a result of the debate. Every year, 100,000 people suffer their first stroke. It is the third biggest killer in the United Kingdom and the single largest cause of severe disability.

Stroke is a devastating condition, and most hon. Members will know a family member or friend who has experienced it. The effects of a stroke can vary enormously, and depend on which part of the brain is damaged and the extent of the damage. It is the commonest cause of neurological disability, the commonest cause of epilepsy in older people, the second most common cause of dementia and, not surprisingly, the commonest cause of depression. Those affected by strokes, whether patients, their families or their carers, know what it is like to experience the life-changing effects that strokes bring.

Expenditure on strokes is already considerable. The costs in national health service and social services expenditure in 1995–96 were calculated to be £2.3 billion. The incidence of strokes is projected to rise considerably as a result of demographic change. It therefore makes sense to ensure that resources are used in the most effective way to ensure the best possible outcomes for families and their carers. There could be huge savings to the health service, social care budgets and the national economy.

My first question to my hon. Friend would be: will he ensure that the Department of Health conducts a thorough review of the way in which funding for strokes is allocated and accounted for? Let us not allow this great wagon of public spending to roll on without conducting a proper review and adjusting to circumstances as they change.

The Government are to be congratulated on recognising the need for improvement in the care offered to stroke patients. Standards for stroke care were included in the national service framework for older people, which covers England and was published in March this year. It is commendable that by April 2004, all people who are thought to have had a stroke, regardless of their age, can expect to be treated appropriately by a specialist stroke service.

Of the 100,000 people who suffer new strokes each year, 10,000 will be under the age of 55. Although in the past, many older patients have been denied specialist treatment because of their age, the same has been true of younger stroke patients. Their needs have often gone unmet because many have been unable to access stroke services, which are often designed for older patients. Much has still to be achieved to ensure that all those who have strokes receive the rehabilitation essential to give them the best chance of independent living by the Government's target date of April 2004. Will my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary ask the Secretary of State for Health to let me know what progress has been made to date to meet the milestones laid out in the national service framework for older people?

The Stroke Association has recently undertaken a survey of NHS trusts to establish the current position. It also asked about plans to set up stroke units in general hospitals that treat stroke patients, but which currently have no such provision. Of those acute trusts in England reporting no stroke unit in one or more of their general hospitals, just over half have plans in place to develop a unit by 2004. Even hospitals with a stroke unit do not always have the capacity to treat all their stroke patients. Will my hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State to let me know what assessment his Department has made of the current provision of stroke units?

The national service framework sets out service models for managing stroke patients in hospital. The specialist stroke team, led by a clinician with expertise in strokes, brings together nurses, therapists, clinical psychologists and other staff able to respond to individual needs. Members of those multi-disciplinary teams will have experience and knowledge of caring for stroke patients. It is vital for patients to have access to knowledgeable staff who can provide expert care and advice.

Clinical psychology is another area of unmet need, and the numbers of trained staff are insufficient to ensure that all those who need this service receive it. Recovery from stroke can continue for many years, which is recognised in the national service framework. It is therefore essential that those who have had a stroke have continuing access to rehabilitation services in the community. Will my hon. Friend therefore ask the Secretary of State to indicate what action is planned to train adequate numbers of therapy staff in each of the required specialties?

The national service framework for older people commits the Government to take action to prevent strokes. Action to reduce the risk of a person having a stroke in the first instance is urgently needed. It is a startling reality that the health gap that exists in our society results in some minority ethnic and social groups experiencing a much higher risk of stroke. I could give the details, but I shall simply ask my hon. Friend to let me know how the Government will tackle the differentials between social classes and ethnic backgrounds.

Blood pressure is another factor, as is smoking, yet although those factors are taken into account with heart disease and cancer, with strokes they are often not taken into account. Will my hon. Friend therefore discover whether the Secretary of State has a national campaign to make people aware that they are at risk if they smoke or have high blood pressure?

My final concern is that stroke research is very much underfunded; it lags way behind the amount spent on cancer and heart disease research. The Stroke Association funds what research it can, and committed about £2 million in the past financial year, but that sum is only 5 per cent. of what is available from the largest heart disease charity, and less than 2 per cent. of what is available from the two largest cancer charities. Recent research has confirmed the need for research into areas such as physical therapy for those affected by stroke. My final question is: will my hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State to list the stroke research currently undertaken by the Department of Health, and to re-examine the priority given to stroke research in recognition of the projected rising trend in the incidence of stroke?

My hon. Friend will be glad to hear that I do not expect him to answer all those questions this evening, but his general comments—and an undertaking that the Secretary of State for Health will drop me a line—will be well received not only by myself, but by the millions of our fellow citizens in the United Kingdom whose lives are often unnecessarily blighted by strokes.

7.54 pm

I agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). I well remember that wonderful actress, Thora Hird, making a marvellous speech to the Stroke Association in the Members' Dining Room some years ago. Indeed, the House will be sad to learn that my predecessor, Ivor Stanbrook, whom some hon. Members will recall, has suffered a stroke that has left him speechless and paralysed down one side.

As the hon. Gentleman also said, hon. Members have exercised remarkable self-discipline this evening, which is unusual given that this is normally a season for a lack of restraint, but that self-discipline reflects well on all hon. Members. I shall continue that discipline and confine myself, despite many temptations, to one subject: policing in the outer London suburbs. Of course, the issue applies more generally, but I want to focus on Bromley, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) will want to be associated with my remarks.

The fact is that the residents of Bromley feel that they are suffering not a double whammy, but a triple whammy, because crime and antisocial behaviour are increasing and police resources are being cut, yet they are paying more in council tax and general taxation. Like many other boroughs, Bromley has a community safety partnership, which recently went through the audit procedure for the previous three years, culminating in July 2001. The audit is, therefore, up to date and shows that crime and disorder and the fear of crime are soaring, even in a leafy outer-London suburb such as Bromley.

Overall crime has increased by 9 per cent. on the previous three years. Vehicle crime has increased by 34 per cent., despite a target to cut it by 5 per cent. Robbery has risen by 35 per cent., despite another 5 per cent. target cut. The Parliamentary Secretary is looking for positive points this evening, so I gladly make one. Only residential burglary has decreased—by 5 per cent., but even in Bromley, the detection rate is only two thirds of the average. Some 52 per cent. of people felt under a medium threat of crime, and 10 per cent. felt highly threatened. Worst of all in many respects, the detection rate has fallen from 20 to 13 per cent. during those three years. So 87 per cent. of crimes go undetected, and a dire proportion of criminals are punished.

Moreover, although I am anxious not to be excessively negative, I have to tell the Parliamentary Secretary that things have got worse since 11 September. For reasons that people understand, lots of police have been taken from areas such as Bromley to the centre of London. I entirely understand those reasons, but the result is that street crime in Bromley increased by 131 per cent. in October, and the residents are extremely concerned about the situation.

I have a high regard, as do most hon. Members, for the efforts of the local police. The chief superintendent in charge, Chief Superintendent Howlett, has been promoted and is undertaking a six-month strategic command course, and he obviously hopes to be promoted to assistant chief constable in another area. We are losing a good man, who has done a good job in Bromley, especially in putting more of the policemen at his command on the beat. The fact is that he cannot go on for ever getting a quart out of a pint pot, and I am concerned about the resources that he receives to do his job.

There are two aspects to the problem: first, the money given by the Government to London as a whole, which is the Government's responsibility; and, secondly, the allocations within London. In the previous Parliament, I was a critic of the previous Home Secretary, whom I never felt got a satisfactory deal out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for policing, crime and law and order. As the House can confirm, the resources to fight crime decreased in real terms during the previous Parliament.

The current Home Secretary—I am trying to make another positive point—is, however, doing rather better than his predecessor in getting resources for the police, but even so the Parliamentary Secretary will be interested to know that the £22 million that the Home Secretary has recently said is being allocated for the extra costs of policing in London, following the events of 11 September and all that flows from them, is really a spit in the bucket. It has been consumed in the costs of extra policing that have already been incurred, so there is no extra element for what must be faced until the end of the financial year. In effect, we have had no increment.

Although I fully accept that this is not the responsibility of the Government, another problem is the allocation of the money within London. However, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers aware of what is happening in London as a result of the powers that are now in the hands of the Metropolitan police authority, which is responsible for the allocation of resources within the metropolitan area. The authority is chaired by Lord Harris of Haringey and, for the whole of this financial year, it has been reviewing the formula that settles what each individual borough receives. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) will be interested to learn that the chair of the review board is Lord Tope, a distinguished Liberal Democrat. I imagine that he has been the force behind the board's decisions.

In 1997, there were 464 police officers in Bromley, but the target figure or aspiration under Labour has been reduced to 458. The present figure is 437, but Lord Tope's review board has reduced it to 425, the lowest figure ever. The board has reduced the figure to 425 because that is how many police officers there were in the six months before the slight surge in recruitment—I make another positive point—that the Government have been able to announce in the last few days.

By comparison, Haringey—which is the biggest gainer—has gained 110 policemen. There is no rhyme or reason why Bromley should lose police officers while Haringey gains 110. Bromley has 63.5 crimes per police officer while Haringey has 63.2 crimes per officer. There is hardly any difference between the resources per crime in each of the two boroughs, but one borough will lose 12 officers from its already inadequate number while another borough will gain 110.

This package was voted through the Metropolitan police authority by the combined votes of the Liberal Democrats and Labour. It was, of course, opposed by the Conservatives led by Councillor Bob Neill, the Member for Bexley and Bromley in the Greater London Assembly and my representative. He is also leader of the Conservatives on the GLA and he is doing an excellent job in opposing such nonsense.

Needless to say, the precept set by the Metropolitan police authority for all Londoners will rise. It has risen twice in the past two years and it will, no doubt, rise again next year. We will face higher bills for fewer police and more crime and antisocial behaviour.

The Government must accept responsibility for the net effect on my constituency. The changes that they have made—the reorganisation of the police structure in London—have led, first, to a more complicated system with a Metropolitan police authority and a commissioner deciding how to allocate resources. Secondly, the system costs a lot more and, thirdly, we have fewer police and less police support to deal with crime. The incidence of crime and antisocial behaviour is therefore rising. That is wholly unsatisfactory. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will convey my strong feelings to the Home Office.

8.3 pm

I want to hang my brief remarks on three pegs. The first is marked work in progress; the second lost opportunities; and the third institutional failure.

On work in progress, I wish to refer to the example of the public services and improving their delivery. It is part of a mantra that the price of additional money for public services is reform in service delivery. That is perfectly justifiable. The lesson from, at least, the 1960s is that just throwing money at social problems will not necessarily go any way to resolving them. Therefore, the Government are engaged in a set of necessary restructurings.

I want to spend a couple of minutes considering the restructuring of the police service, a matter that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) has just raised. Effective policing—in particular, the effective policing of antisocial behaviour—is also high on my constituents' wish list. I have presented several petitions to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the matter, and the first from Councillor Wilson in the Coseley area contained 3,000 signatures. Another 3,000 signatures appeared on other petitions collected by councillors in Gornal and Sedgley.

The first point to make about effective policing is the truism that it depends on community support. Indeed, we as a society bear much of the blame for the wider problem of antisocial behaviour. There is a thin line between the promotion of laddish culture in the media, including the BBC, and yobbish behaviour. There is also the unscrupulous marketing of alcohol to young people by the drinks industry and the laxness in the sale of fireworks that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) mentioned.

Since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came into force, local support for policing has been institutionalised in local partnerships. Dudley council has been able to obtain nine antisocial behaviour orders, and that is a considerable achievement. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg and that number could be squared.

The second point about effective policing is that we need more human resources. In other words, we need more police. The Government should be congratulated because police numbers are now at a six-year high, but there is a great deal more to be done. In the West Midlands force, the number has gone up but the increase is relatively low compared with that in other forces. Moreover, I have raised with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the problem of the high attrition rate in the West Midlands force. Along with other hon. Members, I have pushed the barrow of more special constables. Indeed, I see no objection to others, such as neighbourhood and street wardens, contributing to the policing effort.

That leads me to a third point, which relates to my first theme on the reform of public services. Police forces cannot be exempted from the need to modernise. Those who take a contrary view have their heads in the sand. I cannot see my constituents continuing to tolerate a situation in which average sick leave for each officer in the West Midlands force is 13 days compared with eight days in other forces, such as Humberside and Northumbria. I cannot see my constituents continuing to tolerate a situation in which the average police officer spends only 17 per cent. of his or her time out on patrol. I cannot see my constituents continuing to tolerate a situation in which financial rewards are based on a series of archaic, historically won concessions rather than flowing to those shouldering the most difficult and demanding policing tasks.

I support the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at police reform. The police need and deserve our support and I have great admiration for my local chief superintendent, Dennis Hodson, and his officers. However, I hope that the Police Federation will embrace the changes set out in the White Paper and so do service to those that it represents and to my constituents.

My second theme is lost opportunities. This Parliament had the opportunity to adopt an offence of inciting religious hatred, but that opportunity was lost because the Government were defeated in another place by an unholy alliance of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. I shall return to their respective roles shortly, but let me first rehearse the arguments for the creation of such an offence.

An offence of inciting religious hatred is overdue and the need has become particularly acute since 11 September when those of us with substantial minority ethnic communities in our constituencies have seen the British National party become more active and an increase in religious harassment, especially against Muslims. The legal problem arises because of the special application of the law of blasphemy to Christianity. It was accentuated by a decision of the House of Lords in 1983—the Mandla case—which held that Sikhs, and by analogy Jews, are protected as a racial group. They therefore fall under legislation such as the Race Relations Act 1976, but Muslims are not covered because they do not have a clear geographic origin or common descent. The upshot is that Muslims do not have the same level of protection as others in our community.

An offence of inciting religious hatred, parallel to the existing offence of inciting racial hatred, would have created a more level playing field in the legal sense. As we recognise religious freedom in the common law, and in light of the European convention on human rights, the corollary is that we have to take steps to protect those who exercise that freedom.

The Conservative opposition to the offence was based on the ground of free speech. It was the Conservatives' view that the offence would be too broad and its application uncertain. As such, they believed that it would catch robust criticism and satire, or even the declaration of one's own faith. I do not accept those arguments given that experience has demonstrated that the parallel offence of inciting racial hatred as set out in the Public Order Act 1986 is relatively rarely invoked. The threshold for prosecution is quite high. The offence is to produce threatening, abusive or insulting material with the intention of stirring up hatred, or such hatred being likely, not just reasonably foreseeable.

Moreover, there is a narrow construction, which the courts always adopt with criminal offences, and the additional hurdle of the Attorney-General's consent. Theoretically, restrictions on free speech are justified in the light of serious secondary effects. In the case of religious hate speech, those are fear, insecurity, psychological distress and, in some cases, physical danger and injury.

Be that as it may, the Conservatives took a principled stance against the offence, but not so the Liberal Democrats. They said that they were in favour of some sort of religious hatred offence, but not in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, and not yet. They know the realities of parliamentary time. They know that the Home Office, with all its Bills, has no chance of getting time for a Bill that covers all religious matters in the foreseeable future. Typically, instead of settling for second best, the upshot is that we have no offence of inciting religious hatred. Over the next couple of years, I shall remind my faith communities that they have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that lost opportunity.

On institutional failings, I shall focus on the House. The difficulty with parliamentary standards is that rational public discussion is almost impossible given the perception fostered in some parts of the media that we all somehow have our snouts in public and private troughs. In some ways, we do not help ourselves. Trivial complaints are still being raised with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and I am looking directly at the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), for supposed party political advantage. If only hon. Members realised how corrosive that is to the standing of Parliament.

As Peter Riddell, that wise and immensely knowledgeable commentator on our affairs wrote—

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

I am really not clear about the hon. and learned Gentleman's reference to me.

The hon. Lady has raised several matters with the Parliamentary Commissioner.

I have not made public anything that I have raised with the Parliamentary Commissioner. My understanding is that anything that one raises with her is confidential until she has examined it and made her views public.

I do not know about that. My comments relate to Labour Members too. There is a corrosive effect on the standing of Parliament if hon. Members raise trivial matters.

Peter Riddell wrote in The Times this morning:
"The dirty secret of British politics is that there is no dirty secret … The repeated rows over 'sleaze' are generally about failures to disclose defensible interests or donations."
There is no case for complacency; nor is there an argument for the status quo. I believe that we have the right machinery, but we need to reorientate it. Failure to declare or register an interest that is both negligent and trivial does not require the Parliamentary Commissioner to inquire. There is a need for judgment and proportionate action.

In my view, more attention needs to be given to behaviour. Declaration and registration of interests are only one aspect of that. Indeed, an MP's interests are irrelevant unless they influence or appear to influence behaviour. We need to revisit the code of behaviour and explore whether that should be fleshed out to give greater guidance to individual MPs. We also need to ensure that ethical behaviour is part of our culture.

The final aspect of institutional failure relates to our role in raising matters of public concern and in scrutinising the Executive. I welcome the changes that are proposed by the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office and the Leader of the House. I know that the Modernisation Committee will return to Select Committees in the new year. The Joint Committee on Human Rights played a valuable role, especially in relation to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.

On scrutiny, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Leader of the House have proposed that all Bills be published and scrutinised in draft form. I support that. However, at some stage, we will have to tackle the Standing Committee system. The Committees may enable outside interests to canvass arguments, but they do not provide adequate scrutiny.

I am mindful of the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen); I am especially mindful of his height. In light of that, I shall resume my seat.

8.16 pm

I want to raise the important matter of the future of Droitwich Spa, one of the two major towns in my constituency. That town could have a happy Christmas and a prosperous 2002 if a number of things were to happen. They are at various stages of development—some worrying, some encouraging.

We need to ensure that the two historic canals that run through the town are reopened and that the town centre is revitalised in the light of the major town centre development by Waitrose. We also need to ensure the refurbishment of the historic lido and the reaffirmation of the town's brine heritage, through district council actions and, in particular, the English Heritage ancient monument status for Droitwich Spa, which is being discussed. Other matters are also relevant to the town centre, but those four impinge on national policy making.

Droitwich Spa has a proud heritage of salt production, dating back to Roman times. In the 19th century, it saw a massive expansion, with new hotels, a railway station and, of course, the famous brine spa baths themselves. Sadly, in more recent times, the town has drifted and the centre is looking especially fragile. I have worked with one of the leading councillors in the area, Councillor Pam Davey, to bring the traders together, with some success, but more needs to be done if the town is to re-establish its vibrancy, as I believe it can.

There has been a steady gain in population as a result of planning policies. Droitwich Spa has taken people from Birmingham and elsewhere in the west midlands, but sadly many of them are commuting to jobs elsewhere. A vision is needed to revitalise the town. That vision is on offer from Wychavon district council and the town council, and it has generated a possible £20 million of investment. That investment is at risk, however, if we do not get the support of Government agencies—especially some of those that report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—of the local community and of the private sector. My worry is that some local pressure groups are working with commercial vested interests to undermine local democracy in Droitwich Spa and the interests of the wider community.

Let me deal with the issues briefly and one by one. The reopening of the canals is the good news part of the story. I declare an unremunerated interest as vice-president of the Droitwich Spa canals trust. The local partners are working well together to achieve that important ambition. The project is identified by the Waterways Trust as one of the most viable canal reopenings in the country. The Droitwich Spa canals trust, British Waterways and the local authorities are working together effectively with other local partners.

There are encouraging signs. The heritage lottery fund and Advantage West Midlands may play their part in bringing about the necessary funding to secure the reopening of the canals. That will bring great benefits, not just to Droitwich Spa but to Worcestershire as a whole and, I believe, to Worcester city. I make one new year prediction: in 2002, we will see agreement on exactly how those canals should be reopened.

There are, however, contentious matters that affect the town, in particular the Waitrose town centre development. That does not sound like something to raise in the House of Commons, but I believe that it should be. The district council retail study by Chase and Partners identified the need for a major boost to the town centre. The Waitrose development provides precisely that opportunity. Plans have been submitted. The very fine planning officer, Jack Hegarty, of Wychavon district council is considering those plans now.

The decision by the planning committee is due early in the new year. However, special interest groups in the town, apparently encouraged by Tesco, are mounting a vociferous and often unpleasant campaign against the proposal. The most dramatic step was to conduct a parish poll this August; that was forced on the town council, even though the planning matter was outside its competence. The poll proposed a specific site for a superstore in Kidderminster road in which Tesco has a commercial interest, having a charge on the land which is actually in administration.

That interest went undeclared in the parish poll. The people of Droitwich Spa were misled; they thought that they were participating in a poll on the merits of an issue, but in fact they were participating in a poll to further the commercial interests of a specific supermarket chain. Interests should be declared in parish polls, just as we in the House of Commons have to declare our interests in the Register of Members' Interests, which was published yesterday. The parish poll cost £4,685.25, which might not sound very much in the great scheme of things, but it is a lot of money to a town council like that of Droitwich Spa. It achieved a wonderful turnout of 11 per cent.

An expensive poll attracting an 11 per cent. turnout was pursued simply to further the commercial interests of one supermarket chain. No wonder that the leader of the district council wrote to Tesco suggesting that it write a cheque for the sum in question; he is right to do so. The poll raises three important policy concerns which, I know, are shared by Members for other constituencies. The Local Government Act 1972 needs to be amended, first, to require a declaration of interests in parish polls and, secondly, to increase the threshold of voters to trigger a poll; in Droitwich Spa just 10 voters are needed to trigger a poll of 23,000 electors which, clearly, is much too low. There is talk of another poll and another poll beyond that, which could bankrupt the town council. Thirdly, there is a need to limit questions to matters within the competence of the parish or town council administering the poll.

Tesco is getting over-mighty and is conspiring by accident or design to undermine democratically elected town and district councillors; it is going too far. Another site at Baxendale chemical works is available: it would be a good idea to develop that for retail use, possibly food retail use. Tesco should look at that—for all that I know, it may be—not at the Kidderminster road site, which is earmarked for housing, through a proper, democratic process and the local plan.

I shall be brief on the question of the lido. A huge public subsidy is needed to maintain a 1930s building which reflects the brine heritage of Droitwich Spa. Again, a group of protesters, for understandable emotional reasons, opposes the involvement of the private sector in a massive redevelopment of the facility which will bring a genuine tourism advantage to the whole town. The protesters' latest technique is to require spot-listing of the lido. That is a device to frustrate the development and may well scare off private sector investors. I plead with them to drop their spot-listing proposal and I urge the Government to resist any such application that comes before them.

Finally—this is what prompted me to speak in our debate—I turn to English Heritage's suggestion that the town centre should be listed as an ancient monument in its entirety, branded by English Heritage as "Droitwich Salt". That came as a bit of surprise to many of us, who did not know that it was making such a proposal. Apparently, it has been talking about it for some years; some people knew that, some did not. It could be a good idea as it might put Droitwich Spa back on the map, but English Heritage is not pursuing it as pragmatically as I would have hoped. It proposes to define the town centre with a bizarre line which seems to lack any historical or archaeological credibility and could threaten the Waitrose development, to which I have already referred.

I understand that English Heritage met the district council yesterday; there were constructive and encouraging signs that it engaged in a proper dialogue with the council. However, I plead with English Heritage and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to whom this matter will come in due course, to be very flexible indeed. There are huge gains for Droitwich Spa if the listing is tackled sympathetically, but huge damage could be done to the town's viability if inflexibility is practised instead. Heritage must be a living matter, a notion that I believe the chairman of English Heritage fully endorses. I hope that that will be reflected in any recommendation from English Heritage in due course.

The four issues that I have raised are part of a complex matrix of issues that could revitalise Droitwich Spa. They could transform the town and put it back on the map. If we lose too many of those opportunities, the decline of the town is inevitable. The protesters should quietly withdraw their objections in the interests of the wider community; local government should stick to its guns and pursue its vision; and the Government and their agencies should support that vision—they have it in their power to do so.

8.24 pm

In the short time available, I wish to draw the attention of the House to three issues; two have national implications and one relates to my own constituency.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) about fireworks. In the past few weeks, we will all have been contacted by numerous constituents about the problems that they have experienced with fireworks. Indeed, in common with my hon. Friend's local newspaper, our local newspaper—the Nottingham Evening Post—launched a campaign calling on the Government to review legislation on fireworks. Many of us in the House have had much correspondence and pressure from our constituents, and it is incumbent on the Government to examine how well the current legislation and regulations are working, reviewing them to ensure that in future some of the misery that many of our constituents have experienced is avoided as far as possible.

The issue is extremely serious. At some point, the Government will have to examine it to see what can be done. I appreciate that we can have as many regulations and reviews as we want, but at the end of the day we need regulations that can be enforced on the streets in an effective and practical way. Certainly, we cannot allow a situation to continue in which people feel terrorised for months on end—indeed, almost all year round. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take up the issue.

Secondly, Nottingham City Transport has recently reviewed its bus services, and new services were introduced on 30 September. For many of my constituents, the review was a disaster because the buses have disappeared: services have been withdrawn or cut. The bus is often forgotten. We talk about grandiose schemes—huge motorways and railways and billions of pounds spent here and there—but in many of our communities, the bus and its effectiveness, which involves the question of whether it runs or not, are crucial.

Nottingham City Transport has reorganised its bus services to cut some of its losses: effectively, it is concentrating on what it calls profitable routes. I accept its argument that the service on those routes is fantastic, with new and frequent buses. However, for people on extreme edges of estates and in rural areas, it is difficult to reach those super-duper buses. Nottingham City Transport's changes mean that many of my constituents who are socially excluded have become even more socially excluded.

Many of these people have families, many are elderly and many find it difficult to make their voice heard. I suspect that the company will say that because the level of complaints has reduced, because the number of letters to the local newspaper has declined, because the number of letters sent to me about the matter has gone down and because the number of complaints that the company receives has declined, that means that the service has settled in, that the changes are working and that the initial furore was part of the process of change.

As I have said, many people find it difficult to make their voice heard and to make an impact on the system. As a result, they give up. They think that they have lost. They think that despite all their efforts, nothing further can be done. Far from being satisfied with changes, there is a sense of resignation.

It is important for Members to have a say in their Parliament on behalf of people who feel hard done by by a bus company that has put increase in profit and the dividend to shareholders above the needs of those who live in the communities that it used to serve. I take this opportunity to call on Nottingham City Transport to review the changes that have been made and to consider whether it is possible to reinstate some of the services that have been taken from some of my constituents. The company should undertake such a review because the outcome will be important to many of my constituents who live in the suburbs of Nottingham.

Thirdly, there is the enormous problem of antisocial behaviour. I believe that police resources are rising and that the numbers of police on our streets are increasing. However, there is a need for more officers, and I think that that is generally accepted. Those who talk to me are not necessarily afraid of some of the huge crimes that we tend to think about when talking about the police. They come to me because they are fed up with people throwing stones at their windows, with their cars being scratched, with people running down the street screaming late at night and with milk being stolen. There is intimidation on the street. There is loutish behaviour all the time.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to examine how effectively some of the legislation on antisocial behaviour that we have introduced is working and to examine how we can ensure that antisocial behaviour orders work. We must ensure that the legislation that bears on antisocial tenants is enforced. We must ascertain whether the parenting orders that we have introduced can be broadened so that they can be used before someone offends. At present, they can be used only when someone has offended, or when a parent is taken to court because a child is not attending school.

Far from there being only law and order problems or policing problems, there are social issues that bear on parental responsibilities for some young people. As a society, we should encourage the taking up of those responsibilities.

Many of the antisocial problems that we talk about involve young people. However, we should recognise them as people who demand services just as others do. Some of the facilities that are available to young people in many areas are not good enough, and we should do something about that. Young people should have a voice in the provision of services, and we should provide more services. Many of them simply want a place to go sometimes where they can feel safe and hang around with their friends.

8.34 pm

I always find this pot-pourri of a debate interesting. There is such a variety of topics. My little rose petal of a contribution to this pot-pourri will relate solely to the disposal of refrigerators. The Government have got themselves into a considerable bind, and that involves the taxpayer. It was known that the problem would arise for about four to five months.

The reason for this situation became apparent only last Tuesday when the Minister for the Environment, in a reply to me during a debate on waste, admitted that we are in this bind because the Government did not understand the implications of an EU directive to which they had signed up. They did not realise that in disposing of refrigerators they had to deal with the chlorofluorocarbons in the gas and with the problems of the insulation material within refrigerators. There is no plant in the United Kingdom that can deal with that insulation.

In accordance with the Montreal protocol, the new EU directive on ozone-depleting substances requires the removal of all chlorofluorocarbons from refrigerators, and the directive will take effect in 12 days' time.

The Local Government Association has estimated that if there is one fridge per household and 21 million households in England, on the assumption that each fridge will be replaced every 10 years, 2.1 million fridges will be scrapped this year alone. The retailers think that the figure is higher—3 million fridges a year. Those figures ignore commercial and industrial refrigerators and air conditioning units.

It is expected that apart from those fly-tipped on verges and lay-bys, most fridges that cannot be collected by retailers will pass through the hands of local authorities.

The Government have explained that they want local authorities to dispose of those 2.1 million fridges in purpose-built plants, but there are no such plants in Britain. I am told that no sites have been approved or given planning permission, so how will the Government assist local authorities in disposing of that mass of waste? I believe that the regulations that will affect the plants are still in draft form. Clearly, no company will invest in such plants until they know what the final regulations are, so there is no possibility of moving forward to investment decisions or planning permission.

The Government have belatedly understood the implications of the EU directive to which they signed up. They have said that the insulating foam inside fridges must not be allowed to escape into the environment, and old fridges must be dealt with in one of three ways. First, the entire fridge may be disposed of in an incinerator, but that is expensive and it means that the metal element is unlikely to be recycled.

Secondly, it has been suggested that the fridges could be disposed of abroad, but that will not work. Because refrigerators contain CFCs, they are classified as hazardous waste, so the insurance premium and the shipping premium go up. It is therefore not economical to export them. The only practical way of exporting them is to get rid of the chlorofluorocarbons by de-gassing the fridges, but if they are to be exported to third-world countries, where they are very useful, there are no facilities there to re-gas them.

The third option is the Government's preferred one. They want to dispose of fridges in purpose-built reclamation facilities in the UK. It is undoubtedly the best option available, yet the Government have made no provision for this means of disposal. Although the Government say that we need three plants in the entire UK, manufacturers have told me that 10 plants will be needed, each with a throughput of 300,000 fridges a year.

In the meantime, because we have no plants the Government have given local authorities some £6 million to store fridges. However, that does not mean that the recycling problem will be dealt with. The fridges will just be taken to a dump and stored there. If people are elderly, poor or have no car, how can they get the fridge to a dump? The answer is that they have to pay someone to take the fridge, and that could cost £50.

The Government have produced a system that does not work. It also means that the fridges cannot be refurbished. Currently, one third of old fridges are refurbished and go to the poor or to third-world countries, so they are still valuable. That will not happen if they go to dumps. They cannot be re-used once they have been out in the open for a long time. We will simply have fridge mountains around the country, because we have no way of dealing with them.

The Government must explain what happens when the £6 million promised to local authorities runs out. Will it or subsequent sums be allocated to the environmental protective and cultural services block on which the local authorities depend? Will the £6 million and any further moneys be in addition to that money?

Clarification is also required about a statement made by the Minister for the Environment, who said:
"There is no need for householders to worry about disposing of their old fridge. If a retailer cannot be found who will take an old fridge away, local authorities will accept the fridge at the civil amenity site, free of charge."
Who will get it there?

I realise that I have only a minute left, so I shall be extremely brief. The fact is that the Government have got it wrong, and we are going to see throughout the country what are colloquially known as fridge mountains. In the next two months, about 800,000 fridges will be sold, so the same number will be dumped in one way or another. In the next year, in which there will be no recycling or disposal plant, some 3 million units will be dumped or stored. The Government say that they believe in the producer paying; frankly, they have produced the mess and I wish that they would pay to sort it out.

8.40 pm

Last Sunday, I went to the Edith Cavell statue, just outside the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and just north of Trafalgar square. I joined a couple of hundred other people. For an hour, we took turns to read out the names of people—there were 1,100 in total—who have died in the past year in the conflict in Israel and Palestine. The poignant and moving thing about the names was the differences in the surnames and first names, and the huge range of ages of the people who died. In some ways, it was like reading from war memorials for the first world war, on which one sees the names of brother after brother who died on the western front. Many people joined in the rota. There were people from Palestine and Israel and from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions, as well as people of no religion at all. They were united in calling for peace and hoping that, somehow, as we move into a time that is important for all religions—we have just come to the end of Ramadan, Hanukkah is around and Christmas is next week—we will see some genuine hope of peace coming to the middle east in the next year.

I must say, however, that the portents are not good. The demonstration was organised by Just Peace UK, which also has supporters and members in Israel, and members of Gush Shalom also attended. The petition that we passed around—I shall not read it all, but I want to refer to what it said—called on the British Government to call a halt to the Israeli Government's over-excessive violence and assassinations and the brutal siege of the Palestinian people that is breeding the horrific counter-horror of suicide bombings, which are universally condemned. It went on to describe the situation in the region.

Anyone who has visited Israel and Palestine will be aware that, as the Prime Minister has said, travelling from Israel into Gaza is like going from the first world to the third world. One sees the poverty, misery, distress and downright anger of ordinary Palestinian people about the way in which they have to live and in which they are treated. When an atrocity occurs in Israel, the Israeli authorities often make very little attempt to do anything about it judicially. There seems to be a policy of launching an immediate rocket attack on a supposed source of Hamas terrorists or on somebody else. The result is that villages, homes and lives are destroyed, and many people die. That breeds anger and hatred, and more support for the people who then carry out attacks in Israel.

When the Prime Minister of Israel or the President of the United States says that it is up to Chairman Arafat to capture such people, bring them to justice and have control over them, they forget that the Palestinian National Authority is not especially wealthy. Indeed, one could argue that it is often bankrupt. If Israeli armed forces systematically bomb its police posts and any form of transport that Chairman Arafat has, it is hard to understand how he or anyone else can exercise authority over what is happening in Palestine and Israel.

The wider question is how one brings about a peaceful solution. It is not wanting for lack of resolutions at the United Nations or of international recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to exist in a twin-state strategy alongside Israel. There is no lack of political declarations around the world. However, they are not implemented and matters are not brought to a fruitful conclusion.

The British Government are an important part of the process, and I hope that they will do all that they can to put pressure on the United States to cease the apparently unending stream of military support for Israel and its blanket support for anything that Israel does. I hope that they will apply a great deal of pressure to ensure that the negotiations take place round the negotiating table, that a ceasefire occurs, and that, if both sides agree and wish it, some sort of United Nations policing operation is established. In 2002, I hope that we can look forward to the declaration of an independent Palestinian state, which will form the basis for long-term peace.

What is happening in the middle east is horrific and the implications are wide. No one of whom I know supports what al-Qaeda and bin Laden did on 11 September; no rational person could condone that organisation's activities. However, people are desperate for peace, recognition and self-determination. If the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority cannot provide that, people seek recognition and justification elsewhere. That is how organisations such as Hamas get their support.

I hope that after the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, there will be peace, some self-determination and genuine support for the clean-up operation in the wake of the use of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, daisy-cutters and all the other horrific accoutrements of modern warfare. I hope that there will be an examination of human rights abuses by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, especially the killing of so many prisoners at Mazar-e-Sharif in the early part of the allied campaign against the Taliban.

I want a recognition that the fundamental injustice of the treatment of the Palestinian people and the need for an active peace process lie at the heart of much of the world's problems, especially in the context of the war on terrorism. There is a need to end the blanket support and approval of Israel's action and to promote an active peace process.

The continuation of the United States campaign against terrorism without legal justification, declarations of war, support for an international criminal court and judicial process will lead to a break-down of any international agreement or treaty. A bombing campaign in Somalia will probably succeed as nothing else in uniting many Somali people against the United States and the west. I hope that there will be a halt, a pause and a recognition of the need for the primacy of international law.

I am about to finish because I am getting strange signals from the Whips. I have received such signals for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament. On 30 January, the United Nations mandate for the MINURSO force expires. It currently helps to ensure that there is a ceasefire in the western Sahara. There was a war, but now there is a ceasefire and a thirst for peace and for self-determination. The United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council have ratified the principle of a referendum to facilitate that peace process, but if there is no referendum for the people of Sahrawi, so wrongly expelled after the Moroccan invasion in 1974, there will be no peace, the Moroccan occupation will continue and a guerrilla war and all the wider implications of that will be on the agenda.

The Government are seized of that fact, but I hope that they encourage the French Government to stop allowing the Elf Aquitane oil company to sign oil exploration certificates in the occupied territories in Morocco, which is totally illegal, totally wrong and very dangerous, and ensure that there is sufficient financial and practical support for the UN operation to enable the referendum to take place early next year. Those hundreds of thousands of people living in dusty, dry, inhospitable refugee camps in Algeria will be able to return home to the country from which they were so brutally expelled in the 1970s.

8.51 pm

Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I must briefly raise several points. First, I entirely agree with the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) on fireworks. I cannot recall receiving so many letters about fireworks and on firework night I thought that our house was under siege, as bombs seemed to be exploding everywhere.

Fireworks no longer produce pretty little stars and the noises that they make seem to have grown louder and louder—local residents were complaining about animals being frightened. I much prefer organised displays. We should not ban fireworks, but a ten-minute Bill on the subject is to be introduced next year and I ask the Government to consider how such products are manufactured and whether we can definitively control the period for which they can be displayed. I hope that a successful gunpowder plot does not result next year owing to the crazy decision we took last night.

My second point is about the wonderful Southend airport. Unfortunately, it has encountered a number of difficulties, so much so that an article about the airport appeared recently in The Daily Telegraph. To comply with new Civil Aviation Authority regulations, St. Laurence church, which is nearly 1,000 years old, must be shifted 150 yd. That is being seriously considered, but quite how an ancient church can be picked up and moved I do not know. Obviously, worshippers are extremely upset and those whose loved ones are buried by the church are outraged. Although I hope that the Minister recognises that the airport is worth supporting, will he pass that message to his colleagues so that this crazy scheme for an ancient church might be avoided?

My third point concerns cocklers in Leigh-on-Sea, who are in difficulty. Every year, there are problems in the Thames estuary with an algae called DSP. The cocklers advise me that a huge number of cockles would have to be eaten before a person became ill, but there seems to be no clarity and the cocklers of Leigh would be grateful if tests were carried out. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) had responsibility for such matters when she was a Minister.

My fourth point involves the huge difficulty in attracting and retaining teachers. Going round the schools recently, I encountered a number of mature teachers and one wrote to me recently:
"I needed the full student loan every year for four years totalling £6000. On completing the course I found that teachers salaries did not take into account my ten years previous experience in outside industry. The salary I received was not enough … I had to take out graduate loans in order to live and remain in the profession for which I had trained … hoping things would improve."
As a result of all that, following the pay increase the gross income of that teacher will be £7.75 over the limit allowed for deferment of student loan repayments. I wish I could go into more detail, but I can tell the Minister that this will apply to many other Members.

My fifth point concerns a reorganisation of benefits called the ONES. I recently visited a home for people with learning difficulties. I simply cannot believe that someone has come up with such a crackpot scheme. People in such homes are experiencing extreme mental-health problems, and it was always the case that the professionals would represent them in terms of benefits. That has all changed. The home that I visited was told "You now have to ring a help line". When that was done, nothing seemed to satisfy the gentleman at the other end of the line. It appears that these people now have to be interviewed individually. That is crazy, and I hope the Minister will look into it.

Finally, let me say that the best Christmas present for Southend would be the according of city status. I bet that when Her Majesty the Queen visited the town in 1998, she thought it extraordinary that it had not been declared a city. We have no cities in our wonderful county of Essex, although it is a huge area. I am sure that any Member visiting Southend would be given a warm welcome, and would support my entreaties to the Minister.

8.57 pm

Because of the five-minute limit, I will read my speech quite fast. I do not require a response from the Minister; I want to save time.

I merely wish to praise an innovative undertaking in my constituency—a foyer scheme, known as the safe start foyer. Recently Maria Mulloy, development manager of the scheme, invited me to a six-months review lunch at the foyer. The scheme is managed at Handley grove, off Claremont road in Cricklewood. It was set up for the benefit of young vulnerable people who are homeless, unemployed or both, and was officially opened in May 2001 by the Minister for Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), and the then Irish ambassador, Mr. Edward Barrington.

I had already visited the foyer some months earlier, when I was able to discuss at length with young people what the scheme meant to them. They told me that their lives had changed entirely for the better once they came into contact with it. The foyer contains 24 flats with on-site support staff, providing key opportunities for disadvantaged young people who want to built a better future for themselves. Those whom I had the chance to meet were enormously positive.

The foyer is currently fully let, containing 24 young adults aged between 16 and 25 of whom 11 are working and 13 are in full-time education. They told me of their past, which was at times gruesome. They seemed eloquent, intelligent and worldly-wise. and I enjoyed our discussions. They told me about their skills assessments, the training, and the job-seeking support available on site for residents. They also showed me their flats, the training and meeting rooms, information-technology access and the cafe and offices.

The chief executive of the safe start foundation, Mahesh Singadia, and Tom Beisty, who chairs the foundation, told me how the scheme had come about. Councillor Alan Williams, leader of the London borough of Barnet, had discussed the building of the foyer with the Network housing association, which was building 113 affordable rented homes in the area. The safe start people were brought in to manage it, and Barnet college's principal, John Skitt, was enlisted to discuss learning opportunities. All four partners put money and effort into the scheme, and the Housing Corporation came up with the capital costs. The Bank of Ireland also played a positive role.

The scheme is quite expensive, and the high standard of accommodation and services suggest as much. Safe start will see hundreds of formerly vulnerable young adults leave its premises with a good future to look forward to, and that is worth every penny. I am sure that those young people will, for once, have a decent Christmas this year.

I shall end with season's greetings to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to all colleagues in the House.

9 pm

I shall keep my comments brief, as I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak. I want to raise two issues that are concerning my constituents. The first relates to toxic ash that has been dumped in one corner of my constituency, and the second to the concern about the shortage in police numbers across the constituency.

Following reports on "Newsnight" and in the local press that toxic ash had been dumped at Pitsea tip, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 6 July asking for how long and when that dumping was allowed to happen; why proper controls were not in place to ensure that it did not happen; who was responsible for ensuring that public safety was adhered to; whether there was any risk to human health; and what measures were being taken to ensure that that did not happen again.

Despite further letters on 18 October, numerous phone calls and written parliamentary questions dated 6 November, I have not received a substantive response. Would the Minister, as a gesture of festive co-operation if nothing else, please raise this matter with the Secretary of State and generate a response? It is a matter of great concern to a large number of my constituents.

The second issue relates to a real concern across the constituency about the shortage of beat and response officers. A number of recent cases strongly suggest that the police are overstretched. In Essex, crime has risen in recent years, whereas the number of police constables has fallen. As part of an overall strategy to get much tougher with the criminal, we should instigate a step change in policing levels across the country, and get as many as an extra 25,000 to 30,000 police officers on the beat over the medium term.

The strength of feeling in Billericay and district is such that recently, in only two weeks, 5,500 constituents signed a petition calling for more police officers to be committed to the constituency. I presented that petition to the House of Commons on 10 December. I am aware that hardly any time has passed since then, but as I was previously unable to generate a response from another Department on the toxic ash incident, I ask the Minister to remind the Home Secretary that that petition sits on his desk, and I look forward to receiving his response early in the new year.

I shall leave the matter there. I should like to extend greetings and wish all hon. Members a good Christmas. 1 look forward to those two responses.

9.3 pm

There is a growing gap, as my constituents perceive it, between the Government's rhetoric and their experience of public services in Fareham. I shall kick off with the topic of health. I shall contrast two newspaper articles that appeared in successive weeks in one of my local papers.

The first was a Government press release trumpeting the allocation of £75,000 to the Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham, which was to cut waiting lists overnight and reduce the delays that people face in the accident and emergency department. That £75,000 will produce three and a bit nurses to cope with the growing number of people going to A&E units.

The following week there was an announcement that the hospital trust that looks after the Queen Alexandra hospital had a deficit of £5.5 million, and had to lose 150 staff, including front-line medical staff. It is not surprising, therefore, that my constituents see a growing gap between what the Government talk about in this Chamber and the reality on the ground.

One of the problems that hospitals everywhere face is the crisis in accident and emergency units. Admissions to those units are growing, many of them elderly people who have been forced to remain at home because the nursing home beds to cope with them are not available. Those beds are not available because the standards imposed by the Government on nursing homes have led to the closure of many in my constituency. The Government have not compensated nursing home owners for the additional costs that that they have incurred. Not only are more elderly people staying at home, but when they reach hospital, more and more have to stay there because there are no homes for them to go to for a convalescence period. A crisis is building up in the health service in south-east Hampshire, as a consequence of the underfunding of the health service and the loss of front-line medical staff, as well as the lack of adequate care places for elderly people.

I wish to place on record my thanks to the teachers and head teachers in my constituency for their hard work and dedication over the past year. That hard work and dedication has masked a growing crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers in my constituency. I raised that topic twice earlier this month. One of the manifestations of the crisis in Fareham is that a local head teacher, David Wilmot, set up a stall in Sainsbury's to recruit more teachers from among passing customers. I thought that that was a tribute to his innovation and initiative, but it was also a sad indictment of the state of the teaching profession and the problems imposed on teachers by the Government through increased work load and more directives.

We cannot talk about the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention in isolation, because it has an effect on pupils. We have already heard Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, explain this month that the stalling in the rate of improvement in literacy and numeracy at the age of 11 was partly caused by the turnover of teachers. My concern is that the improvement in exam standards over recent years will grind to a halt if teacher turnover increases and it is harder and harder to fill existing vacancies. The Government need to act promptly to avoid a crisis in education arising from the shortage of teachers.

The third issue I wish to raise is transport. The Government office for the south-east sent a letter to the chief executive of Hampshire county council. Its opening sentence reads:
"The Government's vision for transport is for a modern, high-quality network that meets people's needs and offers more choice to individuals, families, communities and businesses."
I regret to say that the choice available to my constituents is which traffic jam to sit in. There are two major M27 junctions in my constituency—junction 9 to the west and junction 11, which takes traffic from my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). Both junctions are at maximum capacity at peak times because of the housing development that has taken place in my constituency in recent years. The Government plan more housing developments in the two boroughs. They have responded to the problem in part by providing funds for the south Hampshire rapid transit system. That will provide some relief, but only for people travelling from Fareham and Gosport to Portsmouth and back. It will do nothing for people travelling to Winchester, Southampton or Basingstoke, or for people who live in the west of the constituency who use junction 9. Further public transport investment is not the sole answer to the problem. We need more investment in roads, and soon.

At the moment, three surveys cover the M27—the south coast multi-modal survey, the M27 integrated transport survey and the Fareham and Gosport access study. We have had three studies, but what we need is action, not studies. The Government must provide additional funds to improve the M27, or to stop housing developments taking place in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies.

In this brief canter through the issues in my constituency, I must point out that I am concerned that the Government have not been open about the difficulties that they face in trying to solve the problems. They would gain much more respect if they were honest about their problems with hospitals, schools and roads. We need a proper debate to decide how best to solve those problems. If the Government are not open but continue to recite their litany of statistics, people will become more and more cynical about them. This is a Government who promise much but deliver little.

9.10 pm

I believe that I am the last Back Bencher to speak before Christmas. Brevity is a virtue, and I shall endeavour to be brief.

Christmas Adjournment debates are meant to be an opportunity to raise pressing constituency issues. The Government delivered a pretty rotten Christmas present to west Wiltshire last week. Two long-awaited road building and improvement schemes have been delayed, pending decisions on funding, as part of a cull of road projects across the south-west region.

I am pleased to be able to use this debate to highlight the disappointment felt by many of my west Wiltshire constituents with the Government's failure to commit funds to the construction of a bypass for Westbury and to urgent improvements on the A36 from Codford to Heytesbury. Westbury has awaited its bypass since the 1930s. Since then, through traffic has increased hugely—to the extent that air quality in the centre of an otherwise delightful market town is unacceptably poor by all recognised standards.

The A36 is notorious. It is known locally as "death valley", and rightly so. Indeed, one prominent local journalist turned to me in despair at the weekend and said, "I am just fed up with attending fatal traffic accidents along the A36." I myself recently attended a tragic accident on that road, in which a family of four was killed. Such an event certainly focuses the attention.

I regret to say that the Government's record on road building—indeed, on transport as a whole—is characterised by indecision. I suppose that in retrospect, my long-suffering constituents might have expected this outcome.

If the Government had a real alternative to road transport, we might not need our road improvements and I might not be standing here delivering this speech this evening, but they do not have an alternative. The Government's integrated transport policy seems to me to revolve around squeezing folk off the roads by making it sheer hell to drive. It simply is not working, particularly in rural areas where a car is no luxury.

The A3 Hindhead bypass is a textbook case of dither and delay, and one that will not give my constituents much cheer. The answer to a parliamentary question in May revealed that the Government did not intend to begin construction of the road—one of the most pressing schemes in the country—until at least 2008. The bypass was part of the roads programme of the previous Conservative Government, but Labour dithered for four years before enforcing another delaying order.

In addition, there is a hidden cost for those who live in the line of proposed roads. That cost is planning blight, and it causes huge misery. However, the dither and delay are not uniform. The Deputy Prime Minister's constituents got their improvements on the A1033 and the neighbouring A63. That was good news for those with Jaguars.

The self-styled party of constructive opposition, the Liberal Democratic party, is duplicitous. Across the country, road construction is certainly welcomed by many Liberal Democrats locally, usually with an eye to electoral advantage. However, before the election, the party's national message was very different indeed.

Thanks to the Government's house-building targets, we have seen concrete countryside all right, but not the transport infrastructure to support it. Given that this week's planning Green Paper is called, ominously, "Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change", we can expect things to get worse. May I press the Government to make up their mind about how they are going to resolve the urgent congestion and safety issues faced by motorists, pedestrians and residents in west Wiltshire, and in the south-west region as a whole? On a happier note, I also wish them a very happy Christmas.

9.14 pm

I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I confess to the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) that I drove through Westbury on Saturday to see my mother, and was surprised to find that there was no relief road or bypass, so I am afraid that I contributed to the congestion. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman had been in the House longer, he would know that dither and delay is not something that this Government can lay unique claim to. We in Cornwall suffered for many years because the previous Conservative Government dithered and delayed over essential improvements to the A30. Although I extend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to all Members of the House a warm invitation to come to the warmest part of the United Kingdom—Cornwall—for Christmas, I ask you not to use the A30 during daylight hours, to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam.

It probably says in "Erskine May" that Adjournment debates must always be opened by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). I have attended many of these debates, but never have I attended one in which the hon. Gentleman has not made a very serious point, and I admire his consistency. All too often, we deny and ignore the serious problems of Cyprus, a Commonwealth country. I was a Member of the House when the invasion took place in 1974, and it was a horrendous experience for a number of my constituents who were there.

A number of important threads have run through this evening's contributions, and I hope to refer briefly to some of them. I was struck by the way in which Members on both sides of the House dealt with international as well as local issues. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) talk about the causes of terrorism, while later the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred, very properly, to the serious situation in the middle east. It is important at this time of year, when we approach a Christian festival, to remind ourselves that there are common roots for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Far more unites us than divides us. It may be important for us to remind our constituents of that when we go back for our Christmas celebrations.

Most of this evening's contributions have been concerned with matters closer to home. The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) is not in her place at the moment, but it is striking how the delivery of public services, to which she referred, has become the big issue of 2001. Although many thought that the general election would be fought on the euro, that was not the issue for the electorate. I find it interesting that Conservative Members who were Ministers just a few years ago seem now to have adopted a completely different attitude to the necessary level of investment in public services—so long as their constituency is at the front of the queue.

The right hon. Lady's references to public services were echoed by the hon. Members for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston), particularly in relation to the police. I was a member of a police authority for many years before I came here—when I had a real job, in fact. I found that the police service was often ignored by London because it was thought that it could manage on its own and would always attract the support and resources that it required. We have learned the hard way over the past 20 years that that is not the case. The recruitment and retention of police officers is extremely important and requires greater attention. We are only just now pulling out of the funding trough of the 1980s and 1990s.

The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey has touching faith in the value of ministerial visits. Frankly, I could do without them—so long as they just send the cheque.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) has a great deal of support across the House for the concern that she has expressed on a number of occasions about the way in which fireworks are sold and used. We all know from constituency experience that the manufacture of fireworks has reached such pyrotechnic heights that putting them in the hands of amateurs, let alone children, is dangerous. I hope that her message, which was backed up by the hon. Members for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), and is now backed up by me, too, will be heard by Ministers. Something must be done—things cannot continue as they are.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who is not in his place at the moment, is also a regular. One day he will get up and tell us that the Royal Hospital Haslar is okay, and sit down again. We should all be so amazed that we would think that something had gone wrong with the normal conventions of the House.

There has been concern about the police in several constituencies for very many months—indeed, for many years. However, we should all appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Orpington about the degree to which there is fear of crime. Perception is as important as reality in politics. Fear of crime is extremely important.

Although I cannot comment on the particular circumstances in the borough of Bromley to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I can assure him that we all recognise our responsibility to ensure that in addressing crime prevention, detection and clear-up, we also pay attention to the effect of crime on public perception all over the country. Fear of crime is a real problem among all age groups.

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North uncharacteristically attacked Members of the other House. He referred to the loss of an opportunity to deal with the blasphemy laws. The hon. and learned Gentleman was, until a few months ago, a Minister. As far as I am aware, he made no proposals then to deal with the unfortunate situation as regards blasphemy, but now he blames his colleagues. The victories in the House of Lords on that issue were achieved not merely by Cross-Benchers, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but with the support of Labour peers, because it was felt that not enough preparation had gone into the clauses on blasphemy. They were inserted at the last minute and had nothing to do with the emergency situation dealt with by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

Those provisions were rejected because they were not good enough. That is what this whole place is about—scrutiny of legislation. If the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is an experienced Member, does not recognise that the value of the other place is—and, under the proposals that he will no doubt support, will continue to be—that it acts as a revising Chamber, providing proper scrutiny of the law and preventing Ministers from bludgeoning their way through this building with Bills that are not properly prepared, he has lost his opportunity, and I am sad for him. I agree, however, with his concerns about partisan tit-for-tat and the parliamentary commissioner. That is a serious issue.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) raised some interesting issues that have more than local significance. Parish pump politics concern all of us. They are important; they are the basic building blocks of our whole democracy. For example, if the circumstances of the parish poll that he described were replicated all over the country, we should all feel that democracy was suffering—not only from the apparent distortion of that result by commercial interests but also by the fact that an issue could be triggered by a small but perhaps fanatical group. As a result, democratic representatives at every level of government, all the way up to this place, might be undermined. That is not merely a Droitwich Spa problem—it is genuinely national, as the House will realise.

I was especially struck by the contribution of the hon. Member for Gedling, because so many of our communities are dependent on diminishing bus services. Again I shall refer to my experience before I was elected to this place. I was an adviser to the then Bus and Coach Council when the Conservative Government were threatening the deregulation and privatisation of the whole control system for bus services. This country lost something during that process.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire was a colleague at that time, and will recall that we published a booklet called, "The country will miss the bus". The drawing on the front echoed Shell's advertisements about the loss of some of our natural species. The slogan was "Spot the dwindling—

Indeed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend—he is an hon. Friend in this context. However, the animals, birds and bees depicted on our booklet are likely to have survived—indeed, they have survived—but the little bus in the picture has gone. Country buses have disappeared. In my constituency there are hardly any regular bus services to the outlying areas. Regular users of buses—or those who would like to be—are not the most articulate members of our communities. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gedling for acting as the voice of bus users in his area. It may be a long way from Nottingham to North Cornwall, but I believe that we have a community of interests in that respect.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) mentioned a very urgent issue. The so-called fridge mountain will affect every local authority in the country. It has come like an express train out of a tunnel at us in a matter of days. Local authority members all over the country simply do not know what has hit them, and the Government stand indicted for having failed to recognise the significance of something that they signed up to, which they certainly are not resourcing sufficiently. In those circumstances, the Local Government Association is right to warn local authorities of what will happen, and we in turn have a responsibility to our constituents.

I have mentioned the hon. Member for Islington, North. He was right to remind us what the situation in the middle east could be over the next few days, rather than weeks.

Like a Christmas tree, the hon. Member for Southend, West always manages to have a number of baubles to show off to us in the Christmas Adjournment debate, and tonight was no exception. I was particularly struck by an issue that he took up about the retention and recruitment back into the profession of teachers. If the crisis that our schools are facing is to be relieved in any way, it will be by bringing back into the profession people who have left, perhaps to have a family. I hope that Ministers will listen carefully on that issue; I believe that the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) also mentioned it.

I have a foyer project in my constituency, as does the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis); indeed I have several, in small market towns. It is interesting to reflect that in those two contrasting constituencies there will be a great opportunity to provide a support system to help young people with accommodation, training and employment.

The hon. Member for Fareham referred back to the public services issue, and I shall wait with interest over the next few weeks, if not months, to see how the Conservative party funds the various local constituency pleas for more resources and builds them into a national programme.

As I have a minute or two in hand, I shall do what every other contributor to the debate has done—jump on my own hobby-horse. I have in many previous such debates referred to a serious problem that affects anyone who flies. I do not mean deep-vein thrombosis, although I have, in the past two or three years, mentioned that. I refer to a problem concerning the way in which organophosphate lubricants are used in some jet engines, and in certain conditions can be, as it were, inhaled into the aircraft cabin.

There now exists a very effective group that is providing information on the subject. It is called the Aviation Organophosphate Information Site, and was set up by flight crews. We already know the harm that acute exposure to organophosphates can cause. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) has had ministerial experience of the way in which OPs are used, or have been used over the years, in the sheep industry, where they have had a devastating effect. Acute exposure to OPs, which are very dangerous chemicals, can be devastating. However, in the aviation industry, where these lubricants can leach into the cabin through ineffective seals and cause toxic fumes, there can be chronic exposure over a matter of years.

If any hon. Members are not coming to Cornwall this Christmas but are thinking of travelling abroad, I suggest that they look very carefully at the aircraft in which they are flying. It is usually short-haul aircraft that are affected, so hon. Members who are flying long-haul will be all right, but short-haul aircraft, particularly those used in Australia, have been shown to have a particular problem.

The BAe 146, for example, has caused immense problems and very dangerous and risky circumstances for flight crews and passengers alike. I have drawn attention to a number of incidents that have taken place all over the world over the past two years. If I tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the BAe 146 is used by the Queen's Flight, you will appreciate how serious the problems could be if those chemicals are not properly controlled.

I recently tabled questions to Ministers to try to obtain some information about the international investigation of those incidents. In a parliamentary answer last week, the Government said that they
"are monitoring these developments closely and are prepared to commission specific work on organophosphates if this proves necessary."—[Official Report, 11 December 2001; Vol. 376, c. 801W.]
My final words before I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members a very happy Christmas, are that I hope that there will not be an incident that will force the Government to consider the problem at great speed; I hope that we can deal with it before a dangerous incident occurs.

9.30 pm

I am pleased to take part in responding to the Christmas Adjournment debate. I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Parliamentary Secretary, who will reply to the debate for the Government, are aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) has some critical family matters to deal with this evening, so I am grateful to you for allowing me to fill the slot. I suppose that it is traditional at this time of year that we elderly aunties get trotted out and allowed to join in the family fun.

Having responded to such a debate before in a previous incarnation, I rather hoped that the Christmas Adjournment debate, of all end-of-term debates, would have a cheerful, seasonal feel to it, but there has not really been any "God rest ye merry gentlemen" about tonight's debate. We have heard from many hon. Members that crime is up, that the loutish behaviour on our streets is increasing, that those louts bomb this country's streets with incendiaries, that dogs are barking, that babies are yelling, that cats are racing up curtains and that there will now be horrible mountains of unwanted refrigerators covered in toxic ash. That is what we face in the coming year—not a very cheerful picture. None the less, we have had a variety of contributions, with some common themes.

I should like to tell the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that, if there is such a terrible problem on the A30 in Cornwall, I urge all hon. Members who are travelling to the west country for their Christmas vacations to stop in God's own county of Devon before they get to Cornwall; they will be made most welcome there.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) is a regular contributor to these debates, as has been said. Yet again, using his vast experience from the chairmanship of all-party Cyprus group, he referred, in a very conciliatory tone, to the need to bring together the Turkish and Greek sides in Cyprus. He looked to the future, which set us off with a constructive and topical theme for this evening's debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) touched on international terrorism, which, despite the festive season, is always on our minds. He considered the role of the Council of Europe and the case for an international criminal court, which was mentioned by other hon. Members. No doubt, we shall return to that subject, because international terrorism will clearly present the global community with many challenges, especially when the people involved are caught and brought to justice. He will use his membership of the Council of Europe to ensure that that debate stays at the forefront of our minds.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) is another regular contributor to our end-of-term debates, and I thoroughly share his concern about Eaga. I have referred some terrible constituency cases from very elderly people to its chief executive. Regrettably, when warm homes week was recently celebrated at constituency level, taking part in a photo opportunity had been in my diary, but I felt so concerned about the experience of some of my constituents that I have said publicly that I will not take part in any photo opportunity until I am absolutely convinced that those elderly people are not still waiting for basic electrical work and plumbing to be properly completed to a proficient standard.

When we are satisfied that that work has been done, I will warmly welcome that initiative, as will the hon. Gentleman. That work has to be done to the right standard because those people will have great difficulty if the job is not done properly, and they will have to keep contacting Members of Parliament just to get their central heating systems to work. Clearly, that is his experience, and it is mine as well. Many Members appear to be nodding, and it is worrying to think that they share a common experience on this issue. The matter needs to be sorted out, because it is unacceptable that even Members of Parliament cannot obtain proper replies in good time.

The hon. Gentleman also touched on the issue of sexual offences against people with learning difficulties, which Mencap has placed at the forefront of our minds. I fully agree with him, but I am sorry that he was not at the Conservative party conference. He would probably have found that a strange experience, but the only fringe meeting at which I spoke was the one organised by Mencap on this subject. I share his concern.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) used her great experience as a former Secretary of State for Health to flag up regional disparities and the impact that they have on public services, such as health and the police force in her area. She provided great detail on how the people who work for such services or are recipients of them in areas such as Surrey are disadvantaged. She rightly said that the Government must be fair and that they have a responsibility to the whole country. Many of us think that it is an important issue and she used her great experience to make her points concisely. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take them on board.

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) referred to the problems caused by fireworks. We have all received letters about them, but it is difficult to achieve a balance between people wanting to have genuine fun and people misusing fireworks so that they cause problems to the elderly, pet owners and others. I hope that we can have practical advice from the Government on the changes that they intend to introduce, because something needs to be done. The hon. Lady nods, and I hope that she accepts that I share her concern about the problem. We need to ensure that any proposals that the Government introduce are safe and fairly predictable. It is an offence to create disturbance at night whether through the use of fireworks or other means. Therefore, when people break the law and local authorities have sufficient evidence of that—that is part of the problem—they should be brought to account. Otherwise the word will get round and people will continue to break the law.

I have never seen the Royal Hospital Haslar or known anyone who has been in it. However, I know all about it, because of the work over many years of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I remember seeing people outside the House with placards saying "Save the Royal Hospital Haslar" and my hon. Friend has raised the issue many times on the Floor of the House. Because of his efforts, he deserves to keep the hospital. I am not sure what will follow from the debate in the memorandum that the Parliamentary Secretary sends to his colleagues. I hope that it is not just a generalised round robin. In fact, I urge him to make clear in bold, large type the point about the deadline of 2007 for the Haslar hospital. As my hon. Friend has said, it justly deserves to have the word "indefinitely"—and not 2007—applied to it.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) touched briefly on modernisation, a subject on which he has gained quite a reputation in the House. He recommended that people speak for eight minutes and I timed his speech. He spoke for exactly eight minutes, which was first class. He takes the prize tonight for doing just that. I must say sorry to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), because I want him to think that he would win the prize.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North spoke with great knowledge and in great detail about the plight of people who suffer from strokes, the prevention that might be put in place to minimise their incidence and, in particular, about the need for specialist services. It has been promised that, by 2004, people who suffer a stroke will automatically be guaranteed specialist referrals and specialist treatment. We all know how much a difference the right follow-up treatment to help with mobility or speech problems can make to those who have had strokes. Such treatment is essential. He said that the two main risks were smoking and blood pressure. I do not smoke, but since the Government came to office in 1997 my blood pressure has been up. I hope that I am not at too much risk.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) spoke about policing, as many hon. Members did. In particular, he flagged up the fact that crime was soaring in what he described as the leafy suburbs of Bromley. We often rightly focus on crime in inner cities, but leafy suburbs and rural areas have their share of crime, and that needs to be taken seriously. He said that as taxpayers we have higher bills, fewer police and more crime. The Government have to address that.

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) talked about the reform of public services, antisocial behaviour, community policing and antisocial behaviour orders, which we would all like to see applied in greater numbers. Not even the statutory agencies are aware of the opportunity to use them. If they are to be successful, we must use them. It will be interesting to discover whether there is a wider take-up of that vehicle if we talk about it more.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned parliamentary standards. I have just realised why he referred to me in that context. I repeat to him—this is private between us—I have not made that information public.

I have no idea of the nature of the complaints that the hon. Lady raised with the Parliamentary Commissioner. Of course, they will not necessarily remain confidential because there might be a report. I was simply appealing to her as a leading member of the Conservative Front Bench. I make the same appeal to Labour Members. However, if I gave offence, I unreservedly withdraw my comments and apologise.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is very gracious. I accept his apology and shall move quickly on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) mentioned parish polls in his constituency. It was rich of the hon. Member for North Cornwall to talk about distorting polls. If any party is the past master of distorting polls, it has got to be the Liberal Democrats. We could all learn a few tricks about distorted polls from them. My hon. Friend made a good point, however. We all appreciate that the consequences could be enormous if it takes just 10 voters to trigger a parish poll.

The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) mentioned fireworks, the problem with buses in the Nottingham city area and antisocial behaviour, which has been a common theme of our debate.

I do not know whether you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) as "petal", which is how he described himself. That is not how I have seen him in the past, but I think that he makes a rather nice petal.

My hon. Friend filled us with horror. I had not realised the scale of the imminent problem of second-hand and used fridges, both domestic and commercial. Apparently, there will not be a solution to that unless huge sums of money are spent, either by the Government or local authorities, or by the people who purchase the refrigeration units. Some 2.1 million fridges are replaced. I assume that is every year. There is nowhere for those fridges to go because the Government signed up to something and were not aware what it meant.

The problem is on such a scale that Ministers should stay behind during Christmas and sort it out. I represent a rural area and I am worried that every spare lay-by and ditch will, over the coming year, be filled with horrible old fridges, because people will dump them if there is nowhere to put them.

Yes, and it will be awful for the environment.

I was coming to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). I did not agree with everything he said, which will not surprise him.

Now I shall really disappoint the hon. Gentleman for Christmas. He said that peace should be at the forefront of the situation involving the Israelis and the Palestinians. He stressed the importance of the negotiating table and the need for the United Kingdom and the Americans to use their influence to get people round it.

Back in 1993, I visited Tunis with an all-party delegation, and we had a meeting with Yasser Arafat. His headquarters were then in Tunis and we met just before he moved out. Clearly, he has to take the initiative in dealing with many of the problems with Hamas. However, I do not underestimate the difficulty that he faces in doing that. Like all extremist terrorist groups, Hamas is pretty out of control; that does not let Arafat off the hook but, having met and talked to him, I can see the difficulty of the task that he still faces. There has to be a coming together in a season when we focus on what is going on in the middle east. I was at a carol service on Saturday night and we all sang "O little town of Bethlehem". It was poignant to think of Jerusalem now; the hon. Gentleman was right to raise the matter and express his views in the way that he did.

I shall be quick now because I am a minute over my allotted time. To my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, I say, "Stick with it, my friend." If I am ever in this position on the Front Bench again, I hope to give him a prize for raising many issues, for which the people of Southend, West will be grateful. The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) said that he did not want a response, but he did Finchley and Golders Green proud this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) raised the serious problem of toxic ash. He is waiting for a response from the Home Secretary on a petition that he has lodged; I hope that the Minister will ensure that he gets one. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) spoke about his local Queen Alexandra hospital and, again, problems with public services and care places for the elderly. My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) spoke about the roads and problems including Government cutbacks in the road-building programme and the disarray of the integrated transport policy.

I am most grateful for the opportunity to join everyone again for this momentous occasion. I wish everybody a very happy Christmas and a peaceful 2002.

9.47 pm

I shall attempt to match my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis), who represents a neighbouring constituency for speed. I shall try to reply to the 20 contributions to our debate in the 12 minutes or so that remain before 10 o'clock.

First, I praise all Members for their self-discipline in keeping to a time limit on speeches. In three hours today, we have managed to hear 21 speeches, whereas in five hours in July we heard 22 speeches. I therefore congratulate Members on both sides of the House who participated in our debate. I welcome the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) back to a Front-Bench position. I believe that this is the first time that she has led for the Opposition since our exchanges in July.

Well, it was not goodbye—[Interruption.] It was au revoir, and I welcome her back. Our thoughts tonight will be with her colleague, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). We look forward to seeing him back in the House in the new year.

Our debate has been wide ranging, extending from Droitwich Spa to the Western Sahara. There have been contributions on national and international issues, as well as important local issues. I shall do my best to respond to the points that were made, but apologise if I do not cover everything. I shall ensure that Members to whom I do not reply get responses in due course.

I join the warm praise for the opening, and customary, speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). My constituency has more people hailing from the island of Cyprus than any other parliamentary constituency; I represent both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. I particularly welcome the fact that my hon. Friend's speech enables me to say something about Cyprus. Like him, I welcome the progress on the European Union accession talks. I, too, would prefer the whole of Cyprus to join the EU. However, it is vital that we reaffirm, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has done, the decision of the European Council at Helsinki that there should be no preconditions to the Republic of Cyprus joining the EU. I look forward to a day when we can once again see a united Cyprus with Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots living together side by side in peace, in the way they do in my constituency and in other parts of north London. Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the new discussions between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash, which I hope will bear fruit in the new year.

There were some thoughtful contributions on international issues. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who I believe celebrates his 25th anniversary in the House next year, referred—I agree with him—to the brilliant Dimbleby lecture by former President Clinton of the United States. He raised several extremely important issues about Africa, the middle east and other parts of the world and the powers of the International Criminal Court, which I am pleased to undertake to draw to the attention of my colleagues, especially those in the Foreign Office.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) said that the debate had been described by one of our hon. Friends as whingeing gits' day. Perhaps that is not the case today. As I have said, we have had some thoughtful contributions. Like my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, I have experience of some of the difficulties of the Eaga Partnerships scheme. I have had a number of constituency cases, and clearly it is something that the Government should address.

As for the mis-selling by energy companies, I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy in the Department of Trade and Industry has recently written to all gas and electricity suppliers to express concern about the distress caused by instances of sales malpractice, and to demand that suppliers improve their performances. That is an important step, and I think that all Members will want to see progress made.

The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) contrasted private affluence with public squalor. She rightly talked about the situation in her constituency. All of us want what is best for our constituency. However, in addressing the issue of inequalities in health, Labour Members at least might have a different view about the scale and nature of the challenge that we are facing from that of the right hon. Lady.

I note the recent budget allocations for the right hon. Lady's health authority, the West Surrey health authority. The figures before me show that in the last two years of the Conservative Government the real-terms increases were 0.5 per cent. and 1.4 per cent., whereas this year and next year those increases will be 6.3 per cent. and 6.9 per cent. I do not deny that there are many issues and challenges in the health service across the country, but we are seeing a real and sustained effort to get extra investment into the service.

A number of Members, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), mentioned fireworks. I think that all of us receive correspondence from constituents setting out the sort of concerns that have been expressed this evening. I shall ensure that these concerns are drawn to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs. Enforcement of fireworks regulations is the responsibility of local authority trading standards departments. However, my hon. Friend has recently sought feedback from those departments on levels of compliance and enforcement issues following this year's fireworks season.

I know that my neighbour and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) raised the issue in a debate in Westminster Hall this year. I look forward to the ten-minute Bill that will be presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) in January.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the case of the Royal hospital, Haslar, as he has done on a number of occasions. I congratulate him on his consistency in raising the issue and I pay tribute to his work. I understand—he said this—that the integration process between Haslar and the Portsmouth hospital trust is going well. I am sure that he will keep us informed of progress in the months and years ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who has now been out of purdah for six months and able to address the Chamber, has apologised for not being able to remain in his place for the closing speeches. I thank him for the tribute he paid to the progress that is being made on modernisation. I shall be very careful in responding to his suggestion that mandatory time limits be introduced for speeches. I know that that is a matter for Mr. Speaker and his deputies, but the debate tonight demonstrated that with self-discipline, we can enable all hon. Members who wish to take part in a debate to do so.

My hon. Friend made a number of important points relating to stroke care. I pay tribute to him and to the work of the Stroke Association. By coincidence, the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), who has responsibility in that sphere, is in the Chamber. I will ensure that Health Ministers are fully informed of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North and that he gets the replies that he sought.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), like me, represents an outer-London suburban constituency. I recognised some of the topics and challenges that he described in his contribution. I will pass on his kind words about my right hon. Friend the new Home Secretary, who I am sure will appreciate them, and I will ensure that the various matters mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are passed on.

Several hon. Members acknowledged the fact that police numbers are rising. We are witnessing a change nationwide, but there is still an enormous amount to do. All hon. Members are acutely aware of crime and the fear of crime. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) raised important issues relating to the police, antisocial behaviour and the Government's proposals for reform of the police service. I endorse his remarks about the lost opportunity to take action to deal with incitement to religious hatred. It is sad that that opportunity was lost. That has caused hurt in many parts of our country, particularly to Muslim communities. The House will have to return to the matter.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) focused on important issues concerning his constituency. The Government attach great importance to the country's built heritage. Today a new document entitled "The Historic Environment: a Force for our Future" was launched. It sets out how we intend to move forward. I am not aware of the detail of all the hon. Gentleman's specific suggestions, but I will draw his remarks on behalf of his constituency to the attention of appropriate colleagues in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) spoke about various topics, most importantly the future of buses. There has been an increase in bus services nationwide, but a huge amount needs to be done. I endorse my hon. Friend's observation that improving the bus network is a vital way of providing for greater social inclusion.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) spoke about the alleged fridge mountain. He will be aware that the Government have secured money through the new opportunities fund for a recycling programme. Constructive discussions are taking place between Government, retailers, other companies and contractors responsible for disposal to agree a revised timetable so that the directive can be implemented properly. As a result, I hope that we will not see the fridge mountains to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), my former Member of Parliament when I lived in his constituency, highlighted the future of the middle east peace process. It is vital that we get the peace process back on track. We will achieve that only if there is a recognition of the right of Israel to live in true security, and a recognition that the Palestinians have the right to a viable state.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) is, in his inimitable way, a regular at pre-recess Adjournment debates. He raised a series of concerns, many relating to his constituency, including a bid for city status. I will do my best to ensure that he gets appropriate responses from the relevant Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green said that he did not require a reply. As I have only a minute left, he will not get one.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) spoke about the Pitsea tip and about correspondence and parliamentary questions. I hope that he will not be disappointed if I say that I cannot explain why his letters regarding the Pitsea tip have not yet been answered, but I will draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and encourage him to write fully to the hon. Gentleman.

I am about to run out of time, so I end by wishing right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House a merry Christmas, a happy new year and a restful recess.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

I would like from the Chair to reciprocate the many good wishes that have been expressed in the course of the debate and to wish a happy Christmas to all hon. Members and the staff who serve us.