Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Liz Blackman.]
I am delighted to participate in this debate, although I am sure that it will not be as exciting as the previous debate and the comments from both sides of the House. I want to raise two local issues and one international issue relating to Lebanon.
On the local front, I am concerned about the latest plans of the Leicestershire health trust for the downgrading of the pathway project. Two years ago, the University of Leicestershire health trust decided to rebuild our three hospitals in Leicester—the Leicester general hospital, the Leicester royal infirmary and Glenfield hospital. They were to be completely rebuilt at a cost of about £761 million. A few weeks ago, we were told in Leicester that because of the cuts that had been decided on, the project would be downsized to a cost of approximately £500 million. The result is that Leicester general hospital, which is in my constituency, will not be rebuilt.
Obviously, we are delighted that one of the Leicester MPs is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Although she cannot intervene on local matters, because she is in charge of our hospitals all over the country, the fact that she is a Leicester MP makes her more aware of the issues that concern people in the city.
My plea is that the local health authority understand that downsizing the project, and thereby not rebuilding Leicester general hospital, will cause enormous difficulties in the future. Instead of a rebuild, we have been promised a refurbishment and the use of modular buildings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) and I went to look at a modular building. Such buildings have a life span of only 25 years, and although they would be newer than other parts of the hospital, they would have to be dismantled at the end of that period and a new extension constructed.
In a 21st-century health service, it is vital that we have the buildings to support its services. I agree with the fundamental principle that services matter and it is important that local people have access to excellent health care, but if they do not have buildings in which to provide it, they will suffer in the long run.
The second issue concerns my constituent, Malde Modwadia, who many years ago was falsely accused and convicted of theft. The conviction was quashed and under section 133(4) of the Criminal Justice Act he applied for an assessment in respect of loss of income and the compensation due to him for false arrest and conviction. I have had much correspondence with at least five Home Office Ministers requesting a meeting to discuss the principle of the case.
Clearly, the situation affects Dr. Modwadia, his career, his reputation and the livelihood of his family, and it is important that others in a similar position—who are falsely accused and convicted and whose convictions are quashed on appeal—should have the proper level of compensation.
With the current system, under section 133(4) of the Criminal Justice Act, it is not possible to appeal against the decision of the assessor. In this case, the assessor was Lord Brennan, a member of the other place and a distinguished lawyer who clearly understands the way in which the legal system operates. However, despite the eminence of Lord Brennan, the fact remains that if an assessment is wrong—according to Dr. Modwadia, his assessment does not take into consideration his loss of earnings over the past 20 years; he was a qualified doctor and by now he would have been a very senior consultant in a hospital in the United Kingdom—it is extremely important that somebody else should have the opportunity to look at that assessment. Under the current law, no one can do so. I had a private Member’s Bill—a behind-the-Chair Bill—before the House, which has now fallen. It is extremely important to ensure that Ministers are aware of the gap in the law, in relation not just to Dr. Modwadia but to other people in similar situations, and that we have a right of appeal against an assessment that has already been made.
My final point is about Lebanon and a call that I received yesterday from a person who operates a glass-making factory on the road between Beirut and Damascus. Two days ago, he evacuated his employees from the factory, because he feared that bombs might fall on it. The day before yesterday, four Israeli missiles hit the factory and razed it to the ground. There is absolutely nothing left. His concern—and the concern, I am sure, of others involved in similar cases—is what will happen about compensation for British citizens who have property in Lebanon. I rang the Lebanese ambassador, who was not available. I then had a lengthy conversation—it was a bit heated—with the deputy ambassador for Israel. He explained why Israel was doing what it was doing. I have enormous sympathy with the comments made recently by the Minister for the Middle East; I agree with everything that he said about the disproportionate nature of the Israeli attacks—but I put that to one side. My concern is what happens to British citizens whose property is being destroyed.
Clearly the Foreign Office is fully engaged in the cases of those who are trying to get out of Lebanon, and I pay tribute to Ministers and officials, who have moved extremely fast to make sure that as many British citizens as possible are removed and brought to the safety of other countries. However, the worry for my constituent and others is that they have nowhere to register their loss of property. Obviously, the people who worked in the factory no longer have jobs, because the factory is no longer there. We cannot register that with the Israeli authorities, because they have no mechanism for doing so. I hope that, in his summing up, the Minister will be able to give some indication to the House of what should happen to those who are in such a situation. I look forward to hearing his full response to the three issues that I have raised.
Order. I should have reminded the House that there is an eight-minute time limit on all Back-Bench speeches. However, it is quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman was already aware of that.
Unlike my colleagues on the other Front Benches, I will not be able to respond to the debate, because I will have the pleasure of listening to it after I have spoken. I want to speak on three issues and, like others, to address constituents’ concerns; then I look forward to listening to the contributions of others. The three issues concern the licensing laws and how they are being implemented, planning policy guidance and how it applies to and impacts on my constituents, and finally, funding for the voluntary sector in the provision of health care services and the relationship with the NHS.
I shall first deal with the temporary event notice, a mechanism that allows for the temporary licensing of premises. It was introduced in November 2005 under the Licensing Act 2003. Recently a number of my constituents contacted me after a local pub, the Angel in Angel Hill, started playing music in its garden into the early hours of the morning. Residents who had made representations to the local licensing authority to ensure that the pub’s licence restricted the playing of music outside at certain times were, not surprisingly, rather put out by the fact that it seemed that licence conditions were being broken.
After further inquiries were made of the pub, the local council and the police, my constituents were told that the pub was operating under a temporary event notice, and that none of the normal conditions of the pub’s licence applied. The approach taken under the Act is referred to as “light touch”, and the question is how that applies to personal licence holders. At the moment, they simply apply for a temporary event notice and make the council and police aware that they are doing so. There are no grounds for refusal by the council, and there is no mechanism for consultation with local people. In effect, it is a process of rubber-stamping. Today I want to focus on the administrative arrangements for that.
The Government justify that light-touch approach with what they think are highly restrictive conditions applied to the use of TENs. The notices can take effect for only 96 hours at a time, and can be issued only 12 times in a calendar year for any one premises. The consultation undertaken by the Department stated that such notices were intended to apply primarily to representatives of schools or church groups. The TENs were a way of lightening the administrative load on them so that there was not so much paperwork. The problem is that that cosy picture does not really tally with my constituents’ experiences. The reality is that the notices are being used by pubs to avoid the conditions of their licenses. Figures from my local authority, the London borough of Sutton, show that nearly 25 per cent. of notices issued between November 2005 and June 2006 were issued to pubs, so the Angel is no isolated case.
The simple fact is that the temporary event notice mechanism creates a loophole in the licensing laws that smart licensees use to get round the conditions imposed on them after public consultation. I do not blame the pub or its landlord for using the loophole; I blame the Government for not foreseeing that get-out clause in the new regime. As a result, for up to 48 days a year the licensing laws and the conditions set under them can be set aside and ignored. That is not light-touch licensing but soft-touch licensing, and action is required before the recess.
I have spoken in this House about the problem of predatory developers who apply to build housing on back garden land. Residents in my constituency are running a campaign to protect back garden land from such developers and are asking the Government to change their advice in planning policy guidance. I strongly support that campaign. Current advice under PPG3 designates back garden lands, which is the
“area of land attached to a building”,
as previously developed land. If the back gardens in my constituency and many others like it are designated brownfield land, it becomes ripe for development.
Crucially, that designation fails to take account of factors such as the biodiversity offered by back gardens. A study undertaken by scientists at the university of Sheffield states that urban gardens are a significant source of biodiversity. In fact, their study found that in our gardens there are nearly as many plant species as the total number of native species of flora of the British Isles—that is not just plant species imported from elsewhere, but genuinely native plant species. Back gardens are an important lifeline for the diversity of our ecology.
There is also the issue of the security of back garden land, and developers breaking into it and putting up flats undoubtedly undermines that. In my borough, between 1994 and 2004, an average of 46 new dwellings per hectare were built. That has significantly increased the number and density of homes in my constituency, and put pressure on local infrastructure. At a time when Sutton and East Surrey Water has obtained a drought order, the impact of all that increased development on water supplies cannot be overestimated.
That is only one of a catalogue of problems caused by such overdevelopment. There are more cars on the road, more people trying to use local schools and health services, and a gradual decline in the architectural heritage of the area. Those are all problems springing directly from the designation of back gardens as brownfield sites. A planning system that fails to strike a proper balance between conservation and change is not fit for purpose. As a result, it is losing public support in my constituency.
However, help is at hand, in the form of the private Member’s Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), the Local Government and Planning (Parkland and Windfall Development) Bill, of which I am a sponsor. I hope that the Government will still find time in this Session to provide the protection that the Bill would give to back garden land by returning the designation to what it should be—not brownfield but greenfield land.
My final contribution to the debate is about my concern for one of the valuable and well-regarded voluntary organisations in my constituency, which is losing some much needed funding. For four and a half years Age Concern in Sutton has run a hospital discharge scheme to support those leaving hospital. The scheme is aimed at people returning from hospital who are judged not to require personal care, and who are therefore not covered by social services care packages.
The principal issue is eligibility, and how different authorities draw up eligibility criteria. The scheme co-ordinators visit the home of an individual leaving hospital to assess any financial, nutritional or safety needs, and take steps to ensure that those are met. Volunteers from the scheme then make weekly visits to the home of the discharged patients, helping with shopping, financial affairs and cleaning. Without this service, those people would have no support once they had left their hospital beds.
Until recently the scheme was funded by a pooled arrangement between the Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust, the London borough of Sutton social services department, and the Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. However, earlier this year—I think this is driven by financial pressures—the Epsom and St. Helier NHS Trust began to question the value of the scheme, despite the clear support of patients who had benefited directly from it and health care professionals working for the trust.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the pressure on primary care trusts to fund only core NHS matters, so as to meet financial targets, often runs counter to the Government’s objective of linking health and social care? For example, in Brent the PCT has had to cut the money provided to Brent citizens advice bureau, which provides an outreach service at GPs’ surgeries to try to prevent extended consultations there, and it is also cutting grants to organisations funding carers’ activity, which may be counterproductive in terms of the long-term aims, and not cost-effective.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which many hon. Members in the Chamber today will probably want to make, about the impact of budgetary pressures in the NHS leading to false economies and short-sighted decisions that result in a reduction in services, which will store up further costs for the NHS and lead to poor services being experienced by many of our constituents.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates a phenomenon that is likely to display itself in the course of the debate. Is he aware—he certainly will be when I have finished my intervention—that the Vale of Aylesbury primary care trust is, disgracefully, saying that it is closed to new entrants if they are children with speech and language disorders? Is this not a classic case of a conflict between the Government insisting on the merits of early intervention, and the cost cutters preparing to damage, perhaps irrevocably, the life chances of vulnerable children, in the name of penny-pinching?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and I look forward to hearing him expound on those points in greater detail if he catches the Deputy Speaker’s eye. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), too, will have the opportunity to detail the consequences for constituents of the difficult financial circumstances that many NHS organisations are grappling with.
My point is about a voluntary organisation that is doing extremely good work, but which has been notified that its funding will be withdrawn in the course of this year. Without that organisation in place, hundreds of vulnerable people will leave hospital with no support, which will in turn increase pressure on hospital beds, because those people will not be able to leave hospital as promptly as the NHS increasingly wishes them to.
There will also be an increase in emergency readmissions as a direct consequence. People who have been inappropriately and too hastily discharged will end up having to go back into hospital because their home was unsafe or ill suited, or because they were unable to get out to get the necessary food to provide themselves with a decent meal during their recovery and convalescence. All those matters will increase the direct cost to the NHS, which is why that decision by the local NHS is a false economy. It is a short-sighted approach, and it will lead to long-term costs and consequences.
Adjournment debates such as this are an opportunity for all hon. Members to bring their constituents’ concerns to the House. Those are just three of mine, although I have many others that I would have welcomed the opportunity to air today. I end simply by wishing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members a good summer recess, and I look forward to listening to the rest of the debate.
In the time allotted I hope to raise four issues that are constituency based but have implications for national legislation.
The first case is tragic. In the last two years, two baby girls living in adjoining properties in my constituency have died of acute myeloid leukaemia. We have tried to understand the epidemiology of that cancer, which is rare in young girls, and it has been established that the houses in which they lived were built on a landfill site. There is clear evidence that methane has seeped out from that site and there may also have been traces of benzene, which is a very dangerous chemical.
I suggested to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that it would be a good idea for tenants considering properties that have been built on landfill sites, reclaimed land or brownfield sites, to be told the history of the land so that they can make an informed choice about whether to take on the tenancies. So far the Government have declined to take that up, but I want to press the Minister on it today, because it is a good suggestion, which would allow prospective tenants the opportunity to make decisions about where they live in the knowledge of the conditions in which their properties have been built. If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot deal with that matter when he replies, I should be grateful if he passed it on to the appropriate Department.
The second issue that I want to raise concerns wheel clamping. Last year, a constituent of mine in Northwich had his vehicle clamped, he thought illegally. The Private Security Industry Act 2001 placed regulatory controls over wheel clamping companies and the Security Industry Authority implements the regulations. I was advised that for a vehicle to be legally clamped, the owner had to be issued with a receipt bearing the name and signature of the operative, the date and location of the clamping episode, and the registration number of the person doing the clamping. If the receipt does not contain the registration number of a clamping operative, the clamping is illegal and the owner of the vehicle can insist on the clamp being removed.
I was able to prove to the SIA that the receipt that my constituent received did not bear the location, the clamper’s name or the operative’s number. I asked for that to be investigated and the SIA said that it would do so, but would not be able to tell me the outcome. When I queried that, it said that to do so would prejudice its investigation. So I asked it to carry out its investigation and tell me what it had done afterwards. It then wrote back and said that it did not deal with individual complaints. I then asked whether the receipt was valid, and after an extensive correspondence I was able to confirm that the receipt was invalid. But the SIA does not have the authority to intervene in individual cases, such as that of my constituent. Individuals need to know what is legal when a vehicle is clamped and whom to complain to if they think that that has been done illegally by an unregistered clamping organisation, such as North West Clamping, the company in this case.
The third issue that I raise is another serious matter. On 21 December 1994, a constituent of mine, Stephen Cuddy, was murdered in Liverpool city centre by a man who was seriously mentally ill. That person went to prison for manslaughter. On behalf of my constituent Mrs. Cuddy, the mother of the deceased, I have been trying to establish what happened to the person who killed her son. I have established that the man who killed her son was remanded at Kettering magistrates court to Woodhill prison. He appeared in the magistrates court on a number of other occasions, but was released on 21 November 1994. I am trying to establish why that individual appeared in court and what conditions were placed on his release. The clerk to Northamptonshire magistrates courts has told me that I need the authority of either a justice of the peace or the Lord Chancellor to look at the court register, and it must also be established whether I am a fit and proper person to apply for that information.
The most important test on the release of information is whether it relates to an ongoing case. However, I am not discussing an ongoing case, because the manslaughter of Mr. Cuddy has been dealt with by the courts. It is important that Members of Parliament and members of the general public have access to such information, because it is on the public record and was in the public domain when that person appeared in the magistrates court in 1994. I find it inconceivable that anyone would refuse a request from a Member of Parliament to obtain such information. Through the auspices of my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, I want to press the Lord Chancellor, because if the rules prevent hon. Members from accessing court records on matters that have been dealt with in open court, then they need to be changed.
Fourthly, on a much more positive note, my constituency contains Daresbury laboratory, which is currently devising a new piece of experimental kit. That is probably an understatement, because the laboratory is a world-leading research facility, which will take on the next generation of synchrotron radiation research. The massive piece of kit, which is only a prototype, accelerates electrons as close as possible to the speed of light, and the electrons are then peeled off in straight lines to X-ray materials in real time. That is the lay person’s view, although I think that the matter is far more complicated than that. The prototype has been built at Daresbury, and we are looking forward to a decision stating that the project is desirable because it will take British science forward, that the money will be made available and that the project will take place at Daresbury laboratory. My hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) and for Halton (Derek Twigg) and I have met Lord Sainsbury to press the case. We hope that this time the decision recognises the world-leading facilities and research at Daresbury laboratory, which is valuable in terms of not only pure science, but intellectual property, patents and other associated matters.
I want to use the final 40 seconds of my speech to pay tribute to my close personal friend, Kevin Hughes, who died last week from motor neurone disease and who was the former hon. Member for Doncaster, North. He was a fabulous friend and great company. He was also an extremely good Whip and had a very good sense of humour, which he kept until the end. When I saw him recently, I said, “Kevin, I see that you are still smoking.” He said, “Mike, lung cancer would be a blessing.” We will miss him greatly—his funeral is tomorrow. I am pleased that I have been able to put my tribute in Hansard to Kevin Hughes, who was a thoroughly decent guy.
Before we rise for the summer recess, I want to say a few words about the ongoing situation in Cumbria.
I want to discuss the dire plight of dairy farmers not only in Cumbria, but across the United Kingdom. In July 2005, a report commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed not only that more dairy farms ceased production between April 2003 and April 2005 than had intended to do so in 2003—the increase was 12.4 per cent.—but that the closures were concentrated among the larger herds and the bigger, more profitable dairy farms. If the most efficient dairy farmers are quitting the business in droves, it shows that things are not right in the dairy industry. More than 10 dairy farms have gone out of business in every week in the past two years. There are now more DEFRA staff than there are dairy farms in England, although DEFRA has still been unable to get the single farm payment out in anything like a respectable time.
This is my key point to the Deputy Leader of the House, who used to be the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs. If all our farmers were to get together—they cannot do this, because they are philosophically incapable of working together—and said, “Let’s sell our milk at 20p a litre”, the Office of Fair Trading would crucify them. When I checked the internet last week, however, Asda was selling milk at 55p a litre, Sainsbury’s was, by coincidence, selling milk at 55p a litre, Tesco was selling milk at 55p a litre and Marks and Spencer was selling milk at 55p a litre. That is a cartel. For the OFT to say that there is no evidence of collusion is simplistic. Of course they do not need to collude—one cuts the price, the others look on the website and they all follow. It is a cartel, it is ruthless, it is grubby, and it needs to be stopped. Farmers are selling milk at 14p a litre or, if they are lucky, 15p, 16p or 17p a litre. Someone in the middle is making a huge profit. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee discovered that 18p a litre is going missing somewhere. It has to be looked at and it has to change.
Our economic situation in Cumbria is not good, and I make no apologies for returning to that subject. Economic growth in Cumbria is the slowest of any area in the UK and, indeed, in the whole EU. In those circumstances, we must have EU funding coupled with designation as an assisted area for regional aid purposes. The economy in Cumbria is now as dire as Liverpool’s was when the Government brought in massive intervention to help that city, and rightly so. The Government recently issued a consultation on the content of the national strategic reference framework. I understand that that document will set the priorities of financial allocation for the 2007-2013 structural funds programme. It is vital that it pay proper attention to the needs of areas with low and declining GVA—gross value added—such as Cumbria. It is also vital that when the final draft is published Cumbria should receive a dedicated top slice of the national allocation of regional competitiveness funds. That would not be a precedent for any other county or region of the United Kingdom because no other part of the UK, from the highlands of Scotland to Cornwall to Liverpool, is in as dire a situation as Cumbria.
I hope that the Government can find some sort of special programme for areas such as Cumbria or an increased regional allocation designed to offset the impact of economic decline in such areas. At the same time, we need assisted area designation to allow us to use public funds to invest in the private enterprise that is so vital. I understand that a national consultation is under way on assisted areas, and I say again that the designation must take into account those parts of the UK with low and declining GVA. No other part of the whole of the UK is as poorly off in terms of GVA as we are in Cumbria; in fact, only five other areas in the whole of Europe are as poorly off. We have great economic need that must be targeted. Unless we get that assistance, it will be impossible to arrest the decline in the Cumbrian economy even if our nuclear industry at Sellafield is boosted rather than run down.
Two weeks ago, I got together with all the Conservative group leaders of councils in Cumbria, those that we control and those that we do not. We issued a statement saying that we, as the Conservative representatives for Cumbria, commend Sellafield as a centre for excellence and research and believe that in order to sustain our economy, support local businesses and preserve local employment, we need a new generation of nuclear power stations and cannot allow the reprocessing facility at Sellafield to be decommissioned. We called on the Government to invest in Sellafield and Cumbria’s economy to dispose of all nuclear waste instead of exporting our waste to be processed abroad, which would export local jobs. We said that we are pleased that in 2004 3.1 per cent. of the UK’s electricity supply came from renewable energy, but noted that the Government are highly unlikely to meet their target of 10 per cent. of electricity produced from renewables by 2010. We said that while we believe that renewable energy has an important part to play in our future energy mix, especially biofuels, of which we should produce a lot more, renewable energy will not be able to meet our energy needs for the foreseeable future. We concluded by saying that in the interests of the people of Cumbria and of England, we call on the Government fully to support nuclear power to ensure that more investment of all kinds is directed to Cumbria.
Let me say a few words about the continuing saga of our community hospitals. The whole thrust of the recent White Paper, “Our Health, Our Care, Our Say: a new direction for community services”, is to shift care more into community settings and to boost the role of community hospitals. The Government say that £750 million will be available for capital expenditure to develop care in the community. I want specific assurances on the community hospitals that we already have in Cumbria. In particular, I want assurances on some aspects of paragraph 6 of the White Paper. Do the Government accept that there are now no circumstances in which any of our community hospitals should lose their intermediate care beds? In paragraph 6.31 of the White Paper, the Government express the wish that
“we want there to be an overall shift of resources from hospitals to care in the community settings.”
What will they do to carry it out? What will they do to compel all the hospital trusts to follow the White Paper demands that
“we should see spending on primary and community care begin to grow faster than spending on acute hospitals”?
Paragraphs 6.38 and 6.39 of the White Paper state among other things that
“we will over the next five years develop a new generation of modern NHS community hospitals”.
Paragraph 6.39 sets out the facilities that they should have. Do the Government accept that, in Cumbria, we already have community hospitals, which have 80 to 90 per cent. of what the Government want, according to the White Paper? All the Government have to do is give the community hospitals the funding to continue to meet their day-to-day running costs. Those facilities should not be downgraded because their running costs are not fully met. Without that assurance from the Government, the next paragraph is worthless.
Paragraph 6.42 states:
“However we are clear that community facilities should not be lost in response to short term budgetary pressures that are not related to the viability of the community facility itself”.
My concern about the plan is that the Government have £750 million and that they will spend it on new hospitals in the cities. The rural areas have the hospitals but we will not get money to run them. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can reassure me that that is not the case.
Tempted though I am to try to counter the arguments of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) about nuclear energy, I want to consider another matter.
Last Friday, The Independent printed one of its iconic front pages. On the left were the flags of 189 countries that supported the United Nations call for a ceasefire in the middle east and on the right was a large white space with only three dots of colour—Israel, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. That is not where I want my country to be—isolated, tied to a US Administration run by neocons and headed by a religious zealot.
I have no quarrel with the American or Israeli people but I do not share their leaders’ views of the world and I know that my constituents do not, as they frequently tell me. We must have a good working relationship with the US, as other European countries do. However, it is time to acknowledge the contradictions between fulfilling our wider international goals and responsibilities and trying to stay on side with George Bush.
In so many ways, the Government have been a beacon of progressive thinking. We have a proud record in peacekeeping and democracy-building. We have been generous in response to disasters. We have worked hard to make the World Bank more accountable and we have done much to bring about reform of the United Nations. We have led the world on climate change, debt relief and poverty alleviation. We even pushed the EU into adopting better terms for the development round of the World Trade Organisation talks.
All those and more are great British initiatives—British policies of which we are justly proud. However, are they reflected in the special relationship? They are not. The Kyoto treaty was concluded on terms that were believed to suit the Americans but they steadfastly refused to adopt it. They have consistently undermined the UN, and this week they collapsed the WTO talks.
We have failed to make the special relationship work for us. It might not matter so much if we had not paid such a high price in supporting the United States military action in Iraq. In doing that, we began the separation from the world community that has become so stark in recent days.
Let me be clear. I am no pacifist and I had no problems with military action in Afghanistan. Defeating the Taliban and rooting out al-Qaeda was in everyone’s interest. If it were not for the folly of Iraq, I believe that we would have made greater progress in that tragic country. Instead we have exacerbated the conditions in which terrorism flourishes. We all know that it is impossible to end terrorism in the middle east if there is no justice for the Palestinians. Only the US has the power to bring about that solution. Perhaps if we had joined the rest of the world last week in condemning Israel’s disproportionate use of force, an isolated US might have taken action sooner. There are few tragedies as sad as Lebanon’s. After years of civil war, Lebanon had achieved a fledgling democracy, and elected government and an infrastructure largely rebuilt by international funds. It now lies in ruins, and support for Hezbollah, which is responsible for recklessly starting this conflict, has probably increased. This ought to give us cause to reflect on our role in the world, and particularly on our contribution to fighting terrorism and its causes.
In a single decade, our world has changed so rapidly and violently that we need a completely new approach. As I said at the beginning of my speech, our Government have led so much of the progressive agenda. So often, however, we adopt contradictory positions. The recently announced proposal to replace Trident represents just such a contradiction. The UK has worked really hard to keep the non-proliferation treaty alive and to find a diplomatic route to containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In Trident, we have maintained an awesome nuclear capability, but we have made it clear that, following the end of the cold war, the weapons are no longer targeted.
The non-proliferation treaty was designed to outlaw nuclear weapons, not to endorse them. Without any progress on nuclear disarmament, there can be no intellectual or moral argument against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any other state. Someone has to break this logjam, and Britain is well placed to do that by forgoing a replacement for Trident.
The deterrence theory that underpins our continued possession of nuclear weapons has long been found wanting. Those weapons did not deter Argentina in the Falklands, or today’s terrorist attacks on Israel. Neither has their mutual possession deterred war between India and Pakistan. On the contrary, all talk in the US now is of bunker-busting nukes and weapons designed not to deter but to fight and wage war. How can we possibly justify spending £20 billion on a weapons system for which we cannot even define a use? Our global enemies are failed states, terrorism, climate change, and the poverty and religious divides that fuel conflict. Nuclear weapons can play no part in meeting such challenges.
An Adjournment debate at the end of a difficult Session such as this is a good place to ask what kind of country we want to be. Robin Cook, writing in The Guardian in 2004, said that
“the political values and global priorities of the US and Europe are diverging rather than converging. Clinging to an outdated special relationship is to stay in denial of that uncomfortable truth.”
How we miss Robin Cook!
In this country, we have an extraordinary wealth of talent, entrepreneurship, rights and freedoms. We have a great history, and the greatest riches in our arts and cultural life. We have the most diverse capital city in the world. This is why we won the Olympic bid. It is time to choose not to be a country defined by its special relationship and its nuclear weapons, but to be one whose international status rests on an intellectual and moral authority exercised within the rule of law.
I, too, wish to refer to the community hospitals in my constituency: Tonbridge hospital and Edenbridge hospital. The two hospitals have a similar past and, sadly, a similar present. Both were founded after the first world war as a result of private benefactions and donations and taken into the national health service under the National Health Service Act 1946. Since then, they have both attracted huge amounts of additional financial support from the private sector, running to hundreds of thousands of pounds from private donations and the wonderful activities of their leagues of friends. Both hospitals provide outstanding nursing care and levels of treatment. And yet both hospitals, under the orders of the South West Kent primary care trust, have half their beds taken out of use. The future of both hospitals is at present clouded in uncertainty.
That situation arises not because of any local failure by the South West Kent primary care trust, but because of a disastrous decision taken by the Secretary of State. We face not a local, individual, constituency crisis for community hospitals, but a national one. If ever there were a clear demonstration of that, it was in this House on 28 March, when, I understand, there was the largest ever simultaneous presentation of petitions by 21 right hon. and hon. Members, involving 45 separate community hospitals the length and breadth of the country, from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) down to Kent and the east and west. It is a national crisis, which has been occasioned by the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State took, in my view, a reckless decision to give absolute priority to one single political target—achieving the 18-week waiting time for acute hospitals, regardless of the consequences elsewhere. To achieve that, she introduced Payment by Results, the new acute hospitals tariff, on 1 April 2005. The desirable consequence of that was a great deal of additional activity in acute hospitals, with waiting times coming down. Regrettably, however, the Secretary of State failed to accompany an improved tariff for acute hospitals with proper revenue arrangements for community hospitals. As a consequence, a significant switch of resources away from community hospitals to the acute sector has taken place.
In my constituency, the South West Kent primary care trust estimates that the consequence of the Secretary of State’s introduction of Payment by Results for the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Acute Hospitals Trust is a transfer of approximately £2 billion a year from the community sector to the acute sector. Predictably, primary care trusts across the country have gone from the black into the red. By virtue of being in deficit, their community hospitals are under threat. The Secretary of State’s announcement of the £750 million of capital will not improve the situation at all. It is capital that will be hard-contested by all Members with community hospitals in their constituencies. The first bids, for the first tranche of £150 million, go in by 30 September, and I suspect that the total bids will be way in excess of that figure. That does not deal with the revenue crisis facing community hospitals.
There are only two routes to solving that crisis. Either the Secretary of State must introduce a proper tariff for community hospitals, or she must extend Payment by Results to cover the community hospital sector. Sadly, it seems that she is setting her face against both of those obvious solutions. The written answer that I received from the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), on 17 July, stated:
“We will set out shortly plans for the national tariff in 2007-08 but we have never said there will be a community hospital tariff.”—[Official Report, 17 July 2006; Vol. 449, c. 245W.]
Therefore, the community hospital tariff seems to be off the Government’s agenda.
As for extending Payment by Results to the community hospital sector, the Secretary of State said in her letter to me last week, dated 18 July:
“For services outside the scope of PbR (such as community services) funding should be negotiated locally.”
What an answer that is! Why should the community hospitals and PCTs be the Oliver Twists of the national health service, reduced to going out begging local providers for income so that they can return their beds to use? The situation is grossly unfair and unreasonable.
I put it to the Minister, and through him to the Secretary of State, that the position of community hospitals throughout the country is unacceptable. My two hospitals in Tonbridge and Edenbridge ask reasonably and justifiably, with my full support, why 80 years of private donation, effort, fundraising and excellent community care should risk being swept away by the bulldozer as a result of the Secretary of State’s mismanagement of NHS finances. That is the central question.
I say to the Minister that the Secretary of State must address the revenue issues. She must provide an assured source of revenue for the community sector, as for the acute hospital sector. Until that happens, there will not be the assured future for community hospitals in this country that, in Edenbridge and Tonbridge and up and down the country, they deserve and need.
I want to use this opportunity to talk about how my constituency of Hartlepool is looking forward with ambition to the 21st century by learning from the experience of the town’s economic growth in the 19th century.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man who is universally seen as the founder of west Hartlepool, Ralph Ward Jackson. It was Ward Jackson arguably more than any other individual who had a vision and saw the potential of an underdeveloped area. He also, in 1868, became the town’s first Member of Parliament. Ward Jackson primary school has been undertaking research on his life this year. That included a visit to the House, and I pay tribute to the school’s hard work.
The school found that Ward Jackson was not a regular parliamentary attender. Indeed, the only contribution that he appears to have made is a vehement objection to the publishing of parliamentary proceedings. But although not a strong parliamentarian, he had a strong vision for the town. In a letter to The Times in September 1863, he described the scene on the land between old Hartlepool and Seaton Carew. He wrote:
“West Hartlepool, with its fine harbour, docks, warehouses and town, situated on the west shore of Hartlepool Bay was, in 1844, an open beach, skirted by sandhills, and behind the desert ridge was an open agricultural country. A solitary farmhouse and a windmill were the only indications of human life and industry that marked the spot. In 1844 there were no works of any kind, no capital, no shipping, no commerce.”
Following a slow and gradual decline in the fortunes of the area in the 18th century, the nobility and gentry of the north of England stayed for the summer months in what Robert Wood, in his history of west Hartlepool, described as
“the romantic old town of Hartlepool and the smart seaside resort of Seaton Carew”.
But there was very little enterprise, industry or ambition.
Ward Jackson saw that if he was able to transport coal from the Durham mines to the London markets faster and more cheaply than the relatively new Stockton to Darlington railway, he could make a fortune. He believed that that was possible through the geographical advantage that the Hartlepool coastline gave him: a quick turnaround of ships in the docks made west Hartlepool the most competitive port in the region. As well as coal, nearby iron ore from the Cleveland hills was soon transported via the new Hartlepool port. Shipbuilding yards, engineering plants and other associated businesses were soon set up.
The economic and industrial growth of the town was phenomenal. Within 20 years, west Hartlepool had grown to be the fourth largest port in the United Kingdom for foreign merchandise exports, just behind Liverpool, London and Hull. By the outbreak of the first world war, one eighteenth of the British shipping fleet, in terms of tonnage, had been launched from or was owned by Hartlepool yards. That was at a time when the British fleet was bigger than the rest of the world’s fleets put together. How on earth was it done? I think that the best analysis comes from Ward Jackson himself. In his 1863 letter to The Times, he wrote:
“It being obvious that, in a totally new creation such as west Hartlepool is, success would best and most surely be realised by making the harbour and docks and every requisite arrangement for shipping and commercial enterprise as comprehensive and perfect as practicable, and in the shortest time.”
I am a lover of history and I believe that the study of the past can teach us some pertinent lessons for the future. For much of the 20th century, Hartlepool has been in decline. The traditional industries that Ward Jackson helped to introduce have become obsolete and Hartlepool has spent the last few decades coming to terms with the social and economic repercussions of that decline. We are still dealing with low productivity and economic inactivity and levels of enterprise and innovation that are too low.
Given the challenges and opportunities of the new century, however, I believe that my town can have as bright a future as the one that faced my Victorian predecessors. That will be achieved by embracing Ward Jackson’s principle of providing a comprehensive, professional and positive environment in which to start and grow businesses, promote skills and improve the quality of life.
The world economy is forecast to grow by about 80 per cent. by 2020. Globalisation—the interconnectivity and free movement of trade, people, capital and information—will occur at a faster rate than ever before. The greatest benefits of globalisation will accrue to those cities, regions and countries that can access and adopt new technologies. The manner in which those technologies can be integrated and applied will be crucial to a region’s prospects for prosperity.
Globalisation means that people, particularly those with the highest skills, will be wanted throughout the world and, given the ease of technology and communication, can be located anywhere in the world. The challenge for cities and regions will be to ensure that the infrastructure and environment of their particular area—their sense of place—are conducive to creating a modern, creative, diverse and innovative place to live, work, raise children and relax, so that talented and ambitious workers will be attracted and will wish to stay.
The expanding global economy will, quite literally, fuel an unprecedented demand for raw materials, particularly energy. It is estimated that total energy demand will rise by about 50 per cent. in the years to 2020, compared with 34 per cent. for the period 1980 to 2000. Growing demand from China, India and Brazil, in addition to continuing demand from the US and in conjunction with increasing political volatility in the middle east, will help to keep oil prices high. Pressure is rightly growing to use more renewable sources of energy, so these trends will also mean that regions that help to capture and refine the energy will become increasingly important.
Hartlepool and the wider Tees valley will play a large part in the world’s modern energy sector. There is the rise of biofuels and the hydrogen economy being developed at Seal Sands, and oil and gas-related activities provided by Heerema Hartlepool, which include project design, engineering, construction and commissioning of offshore oil and gas installations. Heerema has just completed the Buzzard project for Nexen Petroleum and has embarked on its next project, the construction of a Britannia satellite platform. My constituency also has Corus pipe mills, a truly global and first-class firm providing the highest quality products made in Hartlepool to assist in the extraction and distribution of energy throughout the world. I have no doubt that by 2020 Hartlepool will be synonymous globally with energy production excellence.
I mentioned that in the period before Ward Jackson and the emerging manufacturing industry, Hartlepool was becoming something of a tourist attraction and I think that in the 21st century we can have both: we can have a modern manufacturing industrial sector, providing high-value jobs, coupled with a reputation for being an excellent tourist destination. Our coastline is breathtaking, our marine facilities are world class and the recent decision on a direct rail link between London and Hartlepool will provide a fresh boost to the town’s economy.
In the last month or so, the town has been awarded the tall ships event for 2010. That is on a par for my town with Liverpool’s being city of culture for 2008 and London’s winning of the Olympics for 2012. Credit must be given to Hartlepool borough council’s economic development team, which worked hard to get the tall ships to Hartlepool. The challenge, as with Liverpool and London, is to ensure that the event provides a legacy that will embed Hartlepool’s reputation for quality, professionalism and friendliness.
Ralph Ward Jackson saw the economic and commercial benefits that could be realised from Hartlepool’s distinct physical features. He established a modern infrastructure that was conducive to enterprise, to starting and growing a business and to attracting and retaining highly skilled workers. He, more than most, was acutely aware of the importance of that sense of place. In the 21st century, Hartlepool needs to adopt its founder’s model again.
I should like to draw attention this afternoon to the way in which public sector contracts are written, implemented and managed and their impact on my constituents. Whether we are dealing with a service contract—for example, for hospital ward cleaning—or a procurement contract for something such as military helicopters, if the contracts are not drawn up, monitored and implemented properly, it has a huge impact on the services or goods that are ultimately provided.
In the past few weeks, I have to deal with the contracts drawn up by the NHS as part of the change in the way that people in the community are provided with oxygen cylinders. Previously, oxygen cylinders were provided through pharmacies and GP practices, usually at 24 hours’ notice. Many people of all ages rely on those cylinders at home. However, the Government have decided to cut out the middle man, and Air Products Ltd now has the contract, under which it was meant to provide the cylinders, guaranteeing delivery at three days’ notice; but that is not happening and the impact on some very seriously ill people and their carers is quite profound.
For example, I know of a two-and-a-half-year-old with a very serious heart condition who needs 24-hour coverage with oxygen cylinders. The parents became quite desperate because they could not get access to a delivery within three days. Equally, I know of cases of elderly people who have not been able to get hold of cylinders in time and were frequently promised, day after day, that they would get them on a certain day, including at weekends, but they did not come.
I have been in touch with Air Products. I should have thought that, if the Government wanted to change the system from pharmacies and GP practices supplying the cylinders, they would have got all their ducks in a row and the contract would have been put in place and seen to be working before they made the switch, but that is not the case. One of my constituents was told by the head of the medicines, pharmacy and industry business unit—whatever that is—at the Department of Health:
“you are experiencing”
“with delivery of oxygen supplies for your wife and I appreciate that you will want to be sure of a reliable service. Understandably, patients and clinicians are concerned about these service problems.”
When I looked into this, I found all sorts of problems. Cylinders are still with pharmacies. There are problems with people stockpiling things because they are in short supply, which, in itself, creates a shortage. There are also problems with people answering the phones at Air Products Ltd, and I was told that those problems are caused by the fact that so many people are ringing the company that it is having to train staff, who are not yet trained, and until they are trained, they cannot answer the phone in a timely way. I put that to the test to find out how long it took my office to get someone to answer the phone, and it took nearly 15 minutes.
We see those problems right across the public sector. I am also concerned not just about the Government’s management of that contract, but about the change in Devon to adult services, particularly those for the elderly and people with learning disabilities. The contracts are about to be turned over to the people who supply the services. I asked the question, “Please will you get the services in place before you make the change?” However, throughout the public sector, there seems to be a lack of skill and understanding about the commissioning and negotiation of contracts and about how to make sure that, if a supplier does not fulfil a contract, the sort of things that should be written into the contract are implemented to ensure that the goods and services are delivered on time. It seems prevalent across the public sector that people are let down and that people who seriously need goods and services, such as my constituents, are put in such a position purely because the public sector does not seem to understand procurement or how to write a proper public service contract.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is one of the reasons why stoma patients are so concerned about the future of their services? They have a perfectly good service at the moment, but it appears to be undergoing the same transformation as has happened to the oxygen service.
My hon. Friend is right, and anyone who has ever been involved in procurement or writing service contracts, whether in the public or the private sector, knows that there are some pretty rudimentary rules to follow in getting things in place before making any change. To leave it and see what happens and then decide to train people and change the contract is a back-to-front way of going about this.
I wish to raise another matter. At the beginning of the Iraq war, many Members started receiving representations from constituents whose relatives were serving in the armed forces. The then Secretary of State said that it was the wrong time and place to make complaints and draw to public attention concerns about the equipment provided to our armed services. I know that there are wars going on around the world—and I must say in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) that although I do not agree with the views that were expressed on Trident, I do agree with the analysis of the situation in Lebanon and the middle east—but what I am about to say must be said.
Many of my constituents who have close relatives serving in the armed forces are genuinely worried not only about overstretch and various other issues that we have recently aired in this Chamber, but about the fact that people serving in the armed forces are increasingly having to buy privately basic pieces of kit and equipment that, frankly, should be provided, and the fact that, in respect of kit procured by the Ministry of Defence, it should be procured in keeping with a set of benchmarks and standards that we would expect to be met.
We have increasing numbers of such debates in this House. Our armed forces serve in new theatres of war around the globe, and it is incumbent upon us—as a nation and as a Parliament—to know about these matters and to be able to reassure relatives, some of whose families have given generations of service to the armed forces, so they know what the implications of service are, that the kit is the best that we can possibly afford and that it is reliable. However, I have grave reservations in respect of both small personal kit and some of the larger procurement contracts that the MOD negotiates.
I was reminded of that at the weekend. There is a family in my constituency whose son is serving in the armed forces. That family has a long history of serving this country. I felt that if such a family express concern about the provision for their son, we in this place should take such comments very seriously indeed. The issue is not only about the practicalities of the way in which contracts are negotiated; it is also about knowing, when we ask people in our armed forces to carry out their duties, that from the centre—whichever party is in power—we enable them, through their equipment, to maximise their protection and their confidence in the job that we ask them to do.
That links in with my theme today, which is that public sector contracts should be negotiated in a correct and proper manner, and that that should be implemented not only in respect of the public sector contracts that I have mentioned such as those to do with oxygen cylinders, but particularly in terms of the services and goods that are provided to those serving in our armed forces.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), whom I congratulate on raising with characteristic eloquence the case involving Air Products. I, too, have constituents who have suffered as a result of that company, although I must say that I was somewhat surprised that she seemed more inclined to blame for the shambles the Government’s procurement policies than the company itself, where the responsibility must surely primarily lie.
On past occasions when I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak in debates such as this, I have tended to use the opportunity to urge Swindon borough council to make much needed improvements in their performance, but on this occasion I want to start differently—I want to celebrate something. This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth not only Ralph Ward Jackson of Hartlepool, but of the founder of modern Swindon, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In 1840, his 21-year-old lieutenant, Daniel Gooch, wrote to him recommending the small hilltop market town of Swindon as the site for the Great Western Railway’s new engine works, saying:
“The only objection I see to Swindon is the bad supply of water”.
I must say that those of my constituents who have recently suffered—and those who have suffered for many years—from the neglect of Thames Water and the regular flooding of their homes with sewage because that utility company will not make the necessary investment to prevent that from happening—despite making £350 million in profit last year—might well take the view that not much has changed in Swindon since 1840.
For more than 100 years, the railway works flourished under the stewardship of great engineers such as Churchward, Collett and Hawksworth, whose names live on not just in Swindon street names, but in a tradition of engineering excellence and innovation. Those who visit the steam museum in Swindon—I recommend that all Members of this House and every member of the public visit this fascinating and excellent world-class museum—can see this tradition exemplified in a display board of carriage-door locks. It shows that those engineers were never content and were constantly refining and improving their production, driven, above all, by pride in their craft. That is a lesson for successful businesses everywhere.
Pride, excellence and innovation still underpin manufacturing in Swindon. This is still a town built more than most on manufacturing—on Honda and all the other world-class manufacturing businesses located in the town. It is a town that knows better than most that manufacturing matters—in its own right, and for all the benefits that it brings to the economy as a whole.
Brunel was, in the words of his biographer, Tom Rolt,
“the archetype of the heroic age of the engineer”.
However, no country can rely on the genius of individuals alone for the economy to thrive. The manufacturing on which Swindon and this country depends requires that the Government create the environment in which it can prosper.
I want to spend the rest of the time allotted to me drawing attention to two areas on which it is very important that the Government continue to focus their attention, as I hope they will. In repairing the neglect of decades, the Department of Trade and Industry identified seven key conditions for creating the necessary infrastructure: macroeconomic stability; investment; the promulgation of best practices; the constant improving of skills and education levels; improving the transport and communications infrastructures; and creating the conditions for dynamic, open and transparent markets. They are all important, but I want to use this opportunity to focus attention on two particular areas.
Science and innovation relates to the seventh key condition identified by the DTI, and the Government have given it unprecedented support. Since 1997, they have doubled the science budget—to more than £3 billion—and given industry and scientists the confidence to plan long term for the future by setting out a 10-year framework for science and innovation investment.
Today, I want to welcome the increasing emphasis on basic science—acquiring understanding, as opposed to applied research for specific purposes. At a time of economic and technological change unprecedented in its speed and extent, it would be unwise to invest disproportionately in applied research that could become out of date in a few years. It is often better to invest in the fundamental understanding that can, and does, lead to extraordinary applications that are often completely impossible to conceive at the outset of research. In 1984, for example, Tim Berners-Lee took up a fellowship at CERN, the European organisation for nuclear research, and five years later he suggested a global hypertext project to enable the various existing national proprietary computer technologies housed within this multinational institution to communicate better with each other. This became the worldwide web, and was the basis of the internet revolution that now reaches into every area of our lives. That was completely impossible to foresee just a few years beforehand.
The percentage of total Government research and development funding spent on basic research increased from 31.5 per cent. in 1997 to 39 per cent. in 2003, and it is vital that this focus continues. Enabling brilliance to shine is essential for prosperity, as our competitors understand. China is planning to double the proportion of its R&D spending on basic science in the next decade. We cannot ever afford to fall behind.
The second area to which I wish to draw attention is even more fundamental to scientific and technological achievement: a culture in which the command of mathematics is widespread. This is not the occasion on which to rehearse all the challenges that we face in achieving that aim. However, in 2004 Professor Adrian Smith, acting on a Government remit, reported to the Education Secretary that although mathematics
“provides the language and analytical tools underpinning much of our scientific and industrial research and development…we currently face a situation of long term decline in the numbers of young people continuing to study mathematics post-16.”
Professor Smith came up with far-reaching proposals to tackle the problem, and the Government are developing them. For example, in tackling the problem that too few of those teaching maths are adequately qualified, the Government are driving attempts to raise the percentage of lessons taught by those with a specialism in maths. Some 88 per cent. of those lessons today are delivered by such specialists and that figure should be 95 per cent. by 2014. Progress must continue. As we celebrate the bicentennial of the world’s greatest engineer—the founder of Swindon, whose name is indelibly associated with the town that I have the honour to represent—we must continue to ensure that we nourish an environment in which future Brunels can flourish.
May I conclude my remarks by taking this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House a peaceful and creative recess?
I shall follow the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) by raising several issues of concern before we rise for the summer recess. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not address issues of science, technology and mathematics, except perhaps as they apply to the terrible weaponry that is being used at the moment in the middle east. I do not envy those people who have to try to reach some solution to that extraordinarily complex problem.
It is too simple to say that all we need is a ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah is a state within the state of Lebanon, which suggests that Lebanon—like so many other weak states—needs the help of the world to gain strength to resist the existence of organisations such as Hezbollah. I was pleased to note that it was not just me being a conspiracy theorist, but that others think that Hezbollah’s actions were purely a proxy for Iran and a way to distract the world’s eyes from the offer by the US to discuss Iran’s nuclear technology and capability—an offer that Tehran probably did not expect to receive from the US. While the world’s attention is distracted by the aggression between Hezbollah and Israel, Iran can get on with what it is trying to do with its nuclear capability. Those who will be involved in trying to sort out the problem for the long term have all my good wishes.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the deafening silence from the UN, which must eventually lead to a solution in the region, and does she accept the imperative of stopping the human rights abuses against civilians and children on both sides right now?
The problem is much more intractable than my hon. Friend suggests, although I hope that those people who hope to make some sustainable arrangements will take his points into account.
I also wish to raise a domestic terrorist issue—the animal rights terrorist movement. Unusually, I wish to congratulate the Government on what they have done to try to curb the activities of a few, very aggressive people. I was pleased that we were able to send down those appalling people who behaved so badly in the guinea pig farm case. I was pleased to note that the Companies Bill contains provisions to make it more difficult for such organisations, although they are unfortunately fairly shrewd and clever, to gain access to shareholders’ names and addresses from the registers of companies. Wellcome used to be based in Beckenham, so I have a disproportionate number of constituents who hold shares in some pharmaceutical companies, and they have suffered not only from the latest outrage but from the phone calls at 4 am and the posters stuck on their gates and their neighbours’ gates calling them murderers. That is not the sort of treatment that should be suffered by retired, older people.
I urge the Minister to ensure that all the reorganisation in the Home Office does not cause the Government to take their eye off the ball. We have to maintain a high level of policing against animal terrorists, and make sure that the animal terrorist unit is able to continue its work. We must also use all possible legislative means to curb the terrorists’ activities.
The people who are involved in animal terrorism believe that direct action works, and they have set out to train a younger generation to continue an outrageous attack on one of this country’s key industries. Everyone in this Chamber has benefited from its work, and I suspect that the same is true of the animal terrorists. If they are allowed to continue to take action against the industry, investors will make their decisions accordingly and facilities will close. That will happen quietly and gradually—there will be no announcement that it is due to the industry being targeted by the animal terrorists, but investors will decide that they can invest more profitably elsewhere. As a result, one of our leading industries will simply trickle away to countries that offer a more supportive environment.
Finally, I turn to a matter raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). The question of back gardens being treated as brownfield sites is of great importance to people in London’s outer suburbs, and throughout the country. The hon. Gentleman gave various reasons why blocks of flats should no longer be built in back gardens, a problem that affects my constituency as much as his, but he slightly glossed over the way in which a suburb’s character can change because of increased population density.
People move to a new location as a positive choice. They come to my Beckenham constituency because they want its open spaces, large gardens and wide roads, with all the biodiversity that that implies. They want to bring up their children in leafy areas and they do not want to discover that they are faced with inner-city population densities.
I raised this matter in a Westminster Hall debate, but the Minister who responded seemed to be proud that housing in the outer suburbs was approaching inner-city densities. I hope that the Government can be persuaded to look again—and hard—at the question of population density, and at the way in which the planning function is becoming increasingly centralised. That centralisation is evident in the proposed transfer of power to the London Mayor, and in the planning guidance announced in a written statement yesterday. That guidance, which is being consulted on, will make it much easier for central Government to dictate how many houses, and of what type, should go where.
I have long believed that the people who know best what should happen in a locality are the ones who live there. They know that their children need houses, and that older people need different accommodation as they grow older and are no longer able to manage so easily. Local people should be able to decide that their environment will remain as they like it. It is not up to central Government to dictate what should happen.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to raise a very serious issue on behalf of one young man in my constituency, William Watrin Cattrall.
William was born in England, at Derriford hospital, Plymouth, on 20 June 1996. His father is English, as are his grandparents, and he has lived nowhere other than the UK. William is a very keen and talented sportsman who would like nothing more than to represent his country, England. He swims and trains with Plymouth Leander swimming club, one of the most successful clubs in the country. Indeed, his ambition, like that of many other young people of his age, is to compete in the 2012 Olympics for the country that he regards as his.
William is a lad like any other. He supports his local football team, Plymouth Argyle; he sees a career for himself in the Royal Navy; and he loves bacon and eggs. He is also forthright in his views and supports the campaign, highlighted in the local paper, to provide funding for the Earlybird project, which is carrying out work on diabetes and obesity. I will return to the Earlybird project later.
However, unlike other boys of his age, William has no status in the UK. He appears to have fallen foul of legislation that has taken four years to implement and was designed to deal with circumstances such as his, where because his mother is not British—she has Dutch citizenship—and because his parents, like many others in this country, were not married at the time of his birth, he is not considered a British citizen. That has caused a number of complications for William, not least the fact that he cannot obtain a passport, despite registering as a minor, as suggested in a response I received from a Home Office Minister last year. That response paralleled guidance from the UK Passport Service—that if the British-born child of a European economic area national is now refused citizenship, as happened in William’s case, it is worth seeking advice and considering an application for registration in due course. William did all that, but it made no difference at all.
William’s mother was not exercising treaty rights at the time of her child’s birth. She arrived in the UK in 1995 and felt no need to do so at the time. She was clearly unaware of the implications for her child when he was born a year later. The history of the legislation that affects William is that under section 1(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981, a person born in the UK will be a British citizen at birth if either parent was then a British citizen or was settled in the UK. Section 50 (9) of the Act goes on to provide that, for that purpose, “parent” includes the mother, but—crucially in William’s case—not the father of an illegitimate child.
In most other areas of life the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children has been abandoned, but we continue to retain it for nationality legislation, although, to be fair, the position changed on 1 July this year when section 9 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 finally came into effect—four years after the passage of the Act. However, to the horror of William and his family, it was decided not to apply the provision retrospectively, so as we understand it he no longer has any right to obtain settlement. His mother cannot provide the evidence of her settlement in the UK that is required for the alternative route.
The Cattrall family, and numerous other families in exactly the same position, want to know why the provision was not applied retrospectively. There were newspaper reports recently of the case of Leo Poole, the child of an Italian mother and a British father, born on 30 June—the day before the provision came into force. There are similar examples from around the country.
Through the Minister, I want to ask some questions. What were the reasons for the four-year delay? It surely cannot have been due to lack of availability of parliamentary time. We have found time for a great number of orders to be made since 2002. Why is the provision not being applied retrospectively? Is it the cost, or simply the inability of a hard-pressed Home Office to manage the number of possible cases? Do the Government know the number of people who fall outside the change and who, like William, will continue to fall outside our citizenship rules?
For some time, William and his family have been pressing me to highlight his plight. His hope was that the change to the 1981 Act would make all the difference, but sadly the benefits of the 2002 Act will not apply to him. He is stateless and very unhappy. He simply wants to know whether the Government will, in due course, revisit the policy or offer further advice if we have misinterpreted the provision. We do not think that we have done so, but if we did I am sure that William would be delighted.
I want to touch on the Earlybird project, which is being carried out by the Peninsula medical school in Plymouth and led by Professor Terry Wilkin, to research the links between childhood obesity and diabetes—currently at the top of our public health priorities. The project is unique and has received testimonials from around the world. The researchers have visited the House of Commons and given evidence to the Select Committee on Health.
There is no other similar study at present and it would be catastrophic if this study, which has been going for six years, were stopped at this juncture because of a lack of funding. It is a 12-year study of 300 children across Plymouth, from a cross section of socio-economic backgrounds. For six years, the team has been testing the group—since the members of that group were five years old. The data collected are already proving useful. Surely, if the Government want to ensure that NHS funding is effectively targeted to tackle obesity and the diabetes that follows, strong evidence-based research should be used.
The future of this valuable project is at risk because £40,000 of NHS funding last year did not materialise. The Peninsula medical school is an excellent new facility, but because it is new it does not have the benefit of some of the longer-standing medical schools in terms of endowments, so it is not able to support the project, as it would certainly want to do. We are talking about a small team of medical researchers, not fundraisers. I have already written to the Minister to urge serious and urgent consideration of the research and development funding required for the project. I hope that, through him, a message will go back to the Department of Health about the importance and urgency of support for the Earlybird project.
I should like to touch on one subject in the period left before we rise for the summer recess: the way in which the Government recognise the gallantry, service and devotion of those who have served in Her Majesty’s forces—in particular in regiments that have been stood down. I want to touch on the Ulster Defence Regiment, which grew into the Royal Irish Regiment, the home service battalions of which were stood down in recent days.
First, I should say that I believe that the Government proposed a sensible package for the men who had been in the RIR, which was welcomed by many, although some people who served in the regiment ended up less well off than others and might not be as generous about the Government’s role. However, by and large, it was a good package.
I also welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the additional difficulties faced by Ministry of Defence staff in Northern Ireland, who are being made redundant. They will not be able to find a job on the high street in the way in which MOD staff can in Great Britain. At least 50 per cent. of employers will not touch them and it will probably be a much larger slice than that as soon as the employers hear about their previous employment. I welcome the increased offer that the Government have made to MOD staff; many of them will welcome that, as well. I also welcome the sensible step that the Government took to increase the bounty, from £10,000 to £20,000, for members of the RIR who transfer to other regiments and remain as soldiers in Her Majesty’s forces.
Having welcomed all those things, may I touch on some issues that I trust the Government will take on board? The Government are considering in what way the RIR and its personnel can be recognised. I know that, to some extent, the Army likes to keep a certain amount of control over the awarding of medals and I know that the Government will at least want to recognise the role of the regiment as a regiment. However, many of us in Northern Ireland believe that the individuals who have put their lives on the line should be recognised by the Government and that there should be a medal struck specifically for those who have served in the RIR. Although I hear some rumours in the MOD that it is looking at a regiment recognition, as opposed to a soldier recognition, I trust that the Government will look again at that important issue. It might not seem much to many outside the services, but for those who have served in the most horrible and dangerous of circumstances, it is due recognition for the contribution that they have made.
For the Ulster Defence Regiment, a matter relating to the accumulated campaign service medal continues to be a sore. The medal is available to full timers who complete 1,080 operational duties, or part timers who complete 1,000 operational duties. That would appear to make it fairly simple to determine who is entitled to the medal, but regrettably it does not work out that way. The Ministry of Defence says that, as a matter of policy, it has disposed of records that were completed manually, and it now relies on those available through IT. The problem is that, before 1984, records of operational duties were compiled manually, so the information is no longer available to the MOD.
I have been pressing the issue for a long time, and I thought that the problem had been cracked when the MOD made it clear that it was setting up a special group that would consider any applications, and that would take evidence from senior officers and others on whether a person had completed the necessary number of duties. However, it has not worked out. Many of my constituents complain that they completed that number of duties and more, and had letters from senior officers in the regiment saying that they had done so, but were turned down for the medal. One of the champions of the campaign is my constituent, Samuel Fisher. Although he has letters from senior officers not only stating that he completed the number of operational duties required, but listing the operational duties that he performed, he is still not being given the medal. It is unacceptable to leave people who have served their country so well with that kind of gripe. I trust that the MOD will look into the issue again.
I do not want to devalue the medal by simply making it available to anybody who applies and claims, on their honour, to have completed the duties required, but some combination of the soldier’s length of time in the regiment and the available records should be used to enable the MOD to reach a conclusion. Certainly, a more generous approach could be taken; there should be an assumption in favour of the soldier, rather than an presumption against, as seems to be the case at present. I trust that the Minister will relay that to his colleagues and will look sympathetically on the case of those who have served our country well. As we come out of conflict in Northern Ireland, I trust that we will remember those who stood by us when it was at its height.
I wish to speak on a subject of great concern to me and my constituents: the unfolding tragedy in Lebanon. It is worth reminding the House how the crisis began. It started two weeks ago, when Palestinians in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier with the intention of negotiating the release of some of the 9,000 Palestinian prisoners of war in Israel. Gaza took a pounding. There were attacks on electricity and water supplies and thousands of people suffered, but the rest of the world did nothing, including the Arab states.
Hezbollah decided to do something about the situation and to pose as the champion of the Palestinian cause. It responded by capturing two more Israeli servicemen and, eventually, by firing rockets into Israel—most, if not all, of which were aimed at civilian targets. Of course, Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself and respond to the missile threats, but the issue for me, my constituents and most of the Governments in the world, with the exception of those of America and Britain, is Israel’s excessive use of force. Jan Egeland, the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has described the Israeli response as a violation of humanitarian law.
Earlier in the debate hon. Members spoke of the need to strengthen the Lebanese state. Of course that is important, but I am not clear how killing 370 Lebanese civilians, forcing 500,000 people to flee, smashing the bridges and roads, blockading the port and smashing the capital, Beirut, will strengthen the Lebanese state and make Lebanon more stable. Of course, Israel has a right to self-defence, but as matters stand, casualties on the Israeli side and casualties on the Palestinian and Lebanese side are running at about 1:10 in favour of the Israelis.
Israel insists that it is hitting only targets related to Hezbollah, but we can all see on our television screens the hundreds of civilians who are being hit, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Only yesterday television pictures were transmitted of two Red Cross vehicles clearly marked as Red Cross vehicles, lit as Red Cross vehicles, with Red Cross flags on top, which were deliberately bombed by the Israelis. Not only the patients inside the ambulances, but the Red Cross personnel were put in hospital.
We have heard terrible reports of some of the Israeli activity, which may yet be seen to verge on war crimes. There are several instances of the Israeli military ordering civilians to leave their homes and then firing rockets into the evacuation fleet, blasting women and children refugees inside. The rockets that killed them are believed to be Hellfire missiles made by Lockheed Martin in Florida.
The Israeli Government have not chosen the route of de-escalation and negotiation. Instead, they have chosen war. Britain and America are standing back and, as it is described, letting Israel deal with Hezbollah. What historical precedent is there for such military action successfully dealing with insurgent guerrillas, which is what Hezbollah is? Did it succeed in Malaysia, Cyprus or Kenya? How can it succeed in Lebanon?
The action that Israel is taking in Lebanon looks increasingly less like an attack on a terrorist organisation and more like an attack on a nation. It looks increasingly like the collective punishment of the Lebanese people for failing, in Israeli eyes, to do more to contain Hezbollah. That cannot be right or fair, it is contrary to the laws of natural justice, and it cannot work, because for every Lebanese civilian who dies as a result of the current Israeli action, there will be many more recruits for the Hezbollah extremists, so even in its own terms, neither militarily nor politically can the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon achieve the professed aims.
It is noticeable that even the strong middle east allies of Britain and America, such as the Iraqi Prime Minister yesterday, have clearly condemned what is happening. It is difficult for Britain and America to pose as people who wish to fight for human rights and national sovereignty across the world, when the Arab world sees what is happening to Lebanon. There is the never ending war in Afghanistan, the increasing devastation of Iraq, where thousands of people are dying, the continuing death and destruction in Gaza and the bombing of Beirut. How does that look on the Arab street? How does that make the world a safer place?
It seemed rather strange that no early ceasefire was sought by the United States or the United Kingdom; all that they talked about was an effective ceasefire. Surely any ceasefire that would have prevented the deaths of innocent men, women and children would have been an effective ceasefire. What does the hon. Lady believe the Arab states should be doing themselves to ensure that Hezbollah is properly removed from the area so that it cannot perpetrate its terrorism on Israel?
There is no question but that Syria and Iran could rein in Hezbollah if they so chose. But I agree that an effective ceasefire is one where the shooting stops, and if the shooting had stopped days ago, many hundreds of Lebanese men, women and children would be still alive and uninjured, and perhaps half a million Lebanese would not still be fleeing for their lives.
What is happening in Lebanon, and the failure of Britain and America to take immediate action, reflects poorly on us throughout the world, makes the world a more dangerous place, and puts us in Britain in danger, because it will be seen in the context of what is happening across the middle east.
I do not deny that Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran have a major responsibility for what is happening, but it is also the view of many of my constituents that Israel’s continuing excessive and counter-productive military response approaches a war crime. My constituents and others have written to me to say how saddened they are that they do not see a British Prime Minister taking a clearer position on this.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said earlier how little the British Government have moved from being America’s poodle in these matters. If the British Government had stood with their European counterparts in calling for an immediate ceasefire, we would have won respect around the world. Israel clearly believes that it has informal approval from George Bush and from our Prime Minister to continue its assault on Lebanon, both from the air and in a series of ground incursions across the border.
The Prime Minister should take advantage of the special relationship with the American President to put pressure on the US to demand a ceasefire. We must encourage all sides to respect each other’s sovereignty as well as international law, and work for the release of all prisoners held illegally without trial, as a means to end the current crisis. But above all, a negotiated settlement is the only route to a lasting peace in the middle east. The international community must make haste and contribute to bringing about the conditions necessary for the resumption of negotiations to allow humanitarian aid and the delivery of medicines and food to reach those in desperate need in order to avoid humanitarian catastrophe in the Lebanon.
What unfolds in the Lebanon this summer will, despite the fact that Parliament is formally in recess, engage the attention of many of us, and I hope that if there is a very pressing crisis it may be possible to recall the House for a full debate.
It is a pleasure to make a brief contribution to this summer Adjournment debate. I wish to take this opportunity to raise just one issue that affects my constituency, but given the comments of many hon. Members it is the same issue that affects many of theirs—the crisis in health care in our constituencies.
I raise the issue of health care in Harrogate and Knaresborough with particular sadness, because throughout my time in the House I have been at pains to point out my thanks and admiration for all those clinicians, managers and support staff who have made health care in my constituency a beacon of excellence.
My constituency is blessed with arguably the finest and most dedicated group of general practitioners to be found anywhere in the UK. Those GPs have embraced reform, modernisation and the move to enhance the opportunities to deliver ever more services by primary care.
We also have a general hospital, the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, which was ranked as a three star hospital for three consecutive years before achieving compliance status as a foundation trust in 2006. It currently sees 100 per cent. of cancer patients within 14 days and treats them within 31 days of diagnosis. It also treats 100 per cent. of elective patients within 13 weeks, and it has one of the lowest rates of hospital MRSA in Britain. And it has balanced its books in every single year since 1992.
All that has been put at risk by the Government’s boom and bust policies and the arrogant tactics of the PCT, which appears more interested in pleasing its paymasters in London than patients in north Yorkshire as its officers scramble for posts in the new PCT structure. I say that with sadness, because until recently the Craven and Harrogate PCT delivered its services effectively, and it has remained in financial good health since its formation. In the space of six months, however, local GPs have come close to declaring a vote of no confidence in the chief executive of the PCT and are openly refusing to implement cuts in services that will put their patients at risk—good on them.
I would like to believe that, but the problem is that there is currently no accountability within the service. Unaccountable people in unaccountable quangos have made the decisions, which affect a significant number of my constituents.
The GPs were up in arms after the PCT issued new guidelines effectively blocking all but critical and urgent referrals. The guidelines cancelled access to treatment such as dermatology and led to the vetting of referrals through an internal administrative sieve. The proposals, which were presented without consultation with GPs, ignore GPs’ ethical, professional and regulatory obligations. GPs provide the primary care bedrock to our NHS service, and it is important that we recognise their position. It is unacceptable for non-clinical staff to make judgments about GP referrals, as if GPs refer patients simply for the fun of it. Consultation is key in tackling any difficult situation in any organisation, and it is crucial in the NHS. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will persuade the Secretary of State for Health to make such consultation a statutory requirement, not an add-on, in future.
The GP referral issue impacts directly on both secondary and tertiary care, which means a direct impact on the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust. Again, relationships have not simply broken down, because the two bodies are about to end up in court, where the worst case scenario is the closure of one of the country’s most modern and most successful hospitals. The hospital’s crime is that it treats patients too swiftly and too effectively. To deal with that, it must cut its activity by making patients wait for treatment until their conditions deteriorate, which means that staff and facilities will be under-utilised.
More than £1 million of activity is being purchased from the private sector as part of a bizarre notion of choice. My constituents have been told that they can choose a hospital for their treatment provided that it is not their local NHS trust, which is the politics of the madhouse. Last year, the Harrogate trust was actively encouraged to take on more work, treat more patients and decrease waiting times and lists, all of which was in line with the Government policy of payment by results. The trust delivered the results: £3 million worth of extra patients in record time with top quality results, but the PCT has refused to pay up. The patients have been treated and the hospital has incurred the costs. At no time did the PCT discourage the activity, but it now claims that it does not have to pay and that the hospital should absorb the costs in the coming year. No business in the land could operate in that way, let alone one with a hugely expensive infrastructure. My local hospital cannot survive having its base budget slashed while being told to maintain current levels of activity. The Government must intervene in this dispute, if only to clarify their own policy. Foundation trusts are paid by activity or they are cash limited with their activity determined by an outside non-clinical body—one cannot have it both ways. They cannot be expected to ride two horses at the same time. The Secretary of State must accept that the £3 million deficit that my trust faces should be managed over an equivalent number of years and that from now on all activity commissioned must be paid for by PCTs.
The future of health care in Harrogate hangs by a thread as we speak. If the current policies of the PCT go unchallenged—I suspect that a new chief executive and a new board will be required to win back the confidence of the clinicians—Harrogate could see its hospital closed and its GPs become ever more disillusioned. I sincerely hope that the Minister’s right hon. Friend, the Health Secretary, is able to step in before it is too late.
I am afraid that my contribution may be repetitious in that it, too, relates to health. Later today, I will have the honour and privilege of presenting a petition bearing some 20,000 names organised by John and Margaret Baker on behalf of the Friends of Conquest Hospital in Hastings. That petition—the 20,000 names are only “on account”, as many more thousands are still signing—will tell the health authorities and the Government that we will not agree to the closure of our accident and emergency department. Given the massive record investment in health by this Labour Government, which has produced so much in recent years, it seems bizarre that such a petition is necessary, so what on earth is happening?
I worry that many of the decisions being taken are similar to those described by other hon. Members—decisions by managers that create a democratic deficit even greater than any apparent financial deficit. Why is it that at the top Ministers seem to make sound and sensible proposals, but at the local level we Members of Parliament appear to be impotent, incapable and unable to be any part of the decision making?
I am facing a similar situation in my constituency, where the trust is consulting on the reconfiguration of services, which may include the closure of an ambulatory care and diagnostics centre—a brand new unit opened by the Prime Minister in 1999—or the downgrading of an accident and emergency unit at Central Middlesex hospital to a minor A and E unit. People are afraid that even when the hospital consults, it may not listen to what they say.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns for her own area. Of course I do not know the details, but what is happening there might be similar to my local situation.
The position is even worse than I have suggested, because the problem is not just the decisions but the way in which they are taken. Every week, we see graphic, dramatic, crisis-ridden headlines saying that 1,000 jobs are to go. Of course they are not, but the fact that such statements are allowed to be made is creating trauma in the local community. It is bad for our blood pressure as Members of Parliament to see such bizarre headlines. In any case, they are making a drama out of a non-crisis, because in fact the funding is not far behind—it is the decision making that is far behind.
I want to encourage my very able right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health to take back control—not only to take responsibility, which I know that they do, but to become more hands-on and work out for themselves what is happening in trusts that are allowing such decisions to be made.
I appreciate that we are conducting the annual whinge debate, during which we all have a go about the terrible things that are happening in our constituencies. In fact, many wonderful things are happening in Hastings and Rye. Regeneration progresses apace and the health service is wonderful. Why do we keep pretending that it is not? Why do we keep threatening our local community with unnecessary dire predictions of closing various services?
The history of that began when our local strategic health authority published a paper called “An NHS Fit for the Future”. The SHA said that it supported the Government’s view that investment and reform were necessary. We all agree with that. However, it also said that in areas such as Hastings and the Sussex coast, accident and emergency services should be provided only in areas containing 400,000 people. That immediately makes people believe that Hastings and the other towns along the coast such as Eastbourne will lose their accident and emergency departments—although we do not know that.
It gets worse, because the local media then start talking about downgrading to cottage hospitals. I thought that that was all right, because I could simply ask the chief executive to cross out the words “cottage hospitals” so that we all knew that we were not considering that. However, she said no, that she had a blank sheet and she had to think things through from the beginning. Of course the hospital in question will not become a cottage hospital—but why on earth can the SHA not say so? Why can it not say that some changes will take place but that all the dramas and crises, with people worried about their jobs, are unnecessary?
When people are worried about their jobs, staff numbers reduce because those who are most able to leave will go. We can then end up with staff who are not necessarily the most able. Of course many are able, and we are fortunate that the staff in our local hospitals are so good. However, behaviour such as I have described leads to an unnecessary predicament that, in management terms, defies belief.
Although health is a devolved issue in Wales, does my hon. Friend accept that such behaviour happens throughout the United Kingdom? What health trusts and local health boards call a consultation exercise is usually not that, and the scaremongering tactics by the press and others create fear in people’s hearts. Can we not have proper consultation exercises, which ask the right questions?
I am sorry but I shall take no more interventions, because of the time.
It is not only the SHA decisions on accident and emergency departments that cause problems. When one encourages hospital trusts to consider such possibilities, other bizarre ideas are formulated. Three or four weeks ago, our local hospital trust decided overnight to close the maternity department. That decision lasted only 48 hours, and is now to be considered over six months. Doubtless my threat to mention the matter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister helped. Whatever the reason, the decision caused unnecessary alarm and despondency. We must get to grips with such decisions.
Apart from being the centre of the universe and the place where everyone wants to be born—and there will be no future Hastingsers if the maternity department shuts—Hastings is the 27th poorest town in Britain. It has no network of roads. It is 30 miles to one hospital and 20 miles to another, with no motorways and only six miles of dual carriageway in the county. Forty per cent. of my constituents have no car of their own. How could they travel that sort of distance, and why should they have to do it? There is therefore special pleading to be made for areas such as Hastings.
However, my greater point is to ask why the people of Eastbourne should lose their A and E department. There is simply no reason for this kind of dramatic decision making, and 20,000 people in Hastings—and no doubt many more to come—are saying no to the closure of their A and E and maternity departments.
If that were the only problem, it would be bad enough. However, there are so many more—
I cannot give way. I would, of course, but I have no time.
I want to talk about the strategic health authority making decisions about our primary care trusts. A few weeks ago, it decided that we were to lose our focused, excellent primary care trust, which is within budget, on delivery and all the rest of it. Thankfully, however, Ministers intervened and decided that we should retain our local PCT. The subsequent decision of the SHA—some have described it as the revenge of the SHA, although I would not use that word—was to say that we could have two primary care trusts, but we could only have one chief executive to run them. That is meaningless. The SHA appointed a new chair for the PCT—an excellent individual—but it was not surprising that when he learned that he was to work with only half a chief executive, he decided not to take the job.
That is the nature of what is going on in the NHS in my area. Of course, at the lowest level it is delivering brilliantly. People are being seen much sooner than ever before, all the bells and whistles are there in the heart department, and all sorts of wonderful things are happening. People are generally happy with their NHS—[Interruption.] They might not be in some Conservative areas, but perhaps that is because they just want to complain. However, in my area and most others, people are certainly happy with the NHS. Given that that is the situation, I want to encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health to seize the opportunity provided by the success that they have achieved recently, and to urge them not to let the bureaucrats mess it up.
I am grateful to have been called to speak in this very busy debate. I, too, wish to refer to the serious crisis in Lebanon. Like many other Members, I am deeply concerned about what is happening there. I see it as a tragedy of errors—a war that did not have to take place and should not have begun. The Government’s policy on the issue is quite extraordinary and needs to be examined. I should like to draw on my experiences in Northern Ireland, where, a long time ago, I was responsible for building part of the peace line in Belfast. I had the experience of driving the pikes into the ground at that time.
The policy of the Israeli Government is absolutely catastrophic. It was the greatest error imaginable to move back into Lebanon, and the UK Government policy on this is totally misguided. What Israel’s policy has achieved for Israel is desperate: its northern cities are being attacked at a time of holiday, families are being killed, and the country is less secure than ever. It is more threatened than it has been for many years, and it is now faced with rockets with a greater range than ever before.
When I heard about the capture of the Israeli soldiers I thought, “What a great opportunity for Israel to show statesmanship. What an opportunity for them to step back and give a measured response.” That was obviously what was needed. Hezbollah was clearly not being controlled by the Lebanese Government. From my experience in Northern Ireland, I question whether the Hezbollah people who took those soldiers were really controlled by Hezbollah. This looked like the work of a splinter group, rather than the main Hezbollah.
The Israelis’ absolute refusal to have any discussions on the issue was what started this war. We are told that Hezbollah started the war, but it did not. What started it was the fact that there was no negotiation. Historically, in 1979, 1985, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2004, Israel negotiated over the release of prisoners. The reason Hezbollah did this was not that it was being pushed by Iran but that it has thousands of prisoners in Israeli jails—men, women and children. That is what caused this resistance movement to gain energy and to take this desperate course of action. Now, Israel is faced with this attack. I do not condone or support it; I think that it is a terrible mistake.
The response of the international community has been even worse. Who can remember Henry Kissinger flying between cities as fast as he could to try to resolve past crises? What do we have here? We have a G8 that is incapable of coming up with a formula. We have an American Government who have given the Israelis a free hand to smash up Lebanon under the pretext that that is necessary to defeat Hezbollah. We have a British Government who—I say this really of the Foreign Secretary—appear to parrot American policy. When a commentator on the Radio 4 “Today” programme asked the Foreign Secretary about Iraq in connection with Lebanon, she appeared to think that there was no connection. She is completely out of touch.
We now have the ludicrous situation in which the demand made by the Israelis for the implementation of UN resolution 1559 calling for the Lebanese Government to control and disarm Hezbollah—which has become less likely than ever—is now a policy. Against that background, other UN resolutions—242 and 338, calling for the withdrawal of Israelis from “territories occupied”—are completely ignored, as if they had never existed. What folly it is to have that policy now. Britain has no troops in Israel but thousands across Arabia, had a terrorist attack in London last year, and has 1.6 million Muslims, and yet we have managed to put most of our friends in Arabia off-side by not coming out strongly against the destruction of civilian infrastructure, affecting Arabs, Christians and all those in the emerging democracy of Lebanon.
What folly it is, too, to take no notice of the fact that Hamas won the elections in Palestine. We support democracies when it is convenient—that is the American way—but what happens when the wrong people are in charge? Has anyone remembered that Hezbollah runs schools, as the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, and has been elected to the Beirut Parliament?
Why are we in such a mess? I have referred to the Foreign Secretary, but let me talk for a while about the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the middle east, the noble Lord Levy. He has not visited a single Arab country—I have looked it up—but he has made copious visits to Israel, of which he is clearly a strong supporter, with a business and relations there. He is supposed to be impartial. Why did the Prime Minister not choose someone who is an old Arab hand and really knows his way around the middle east? If we go to the Spinwatch website, we find that apparently, when the noble Lord took on his other role to raise large sums of money for the Labour party, it was on the
“tacit understanding that Labour would never again, while Blair was leader, be anti-Israel”.
I have done a rough check on Library figures, and about a quarter to a third of all the money raised in loans for the Labour party since the noble Lord has been involved has come from pro-Israeli supporters. When we have thousands of our troops in Arab countries, is it possible that there is a link between the Labour party being short of money and British foreign policy in support of the Israeli position? Is it possible that the Government are conveniently ignoring our interests in the wider Arab world because of Labour’s domestic difficulties? I hope that someone will investigate this important matter.
I fear for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Government have done them a great disservice by not coming out strongly against the attacks on Arab civilian installations. It makes their task much more difficult. It is absolutely essential, however, that we take a more sympathetic view, and that we listen more to our British Muslims and try to give them comfort by not simply going along with an American policy that is clearly at variance with that which most people in the world believe to be sensible.
I shall obey your command, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is important for us to discuss one or two more issues before we adjourn.
As the Minister now on the Front Bench will know, the House will go into recess today and we will not return until the second week in October. What is mentioned every year at about this time is that the processes of government continue, decisions continue to be made, and Ministers continue to work. Some people confuse recesses with holidays. “Recess” means that Ministers are still working in their Departments, and will take just a couple of weeks off, like most other people. As Members of Parliament too, we need an opportunity to table written questions to Ministers during recesses. The summer recess is a very long period. I know that this is mentioned time and again, and the Minister always says, “We are looking into it,” or, “The Modernisation Committee is looking into it,” but is it not about time that we had a decision?
I also want to mention one or two local issues. One is the A59 in my constituency, which I have mentioned in the House before. There is one particularly dangerous junction where we see many accidents—including, sadly, fatalities—every year. The county council has erected some bollards to prevent traffic from turning right at the junction between Sabden and Clitheroe, but accidents still happen there. What is needed is a roundabout, but we are told that the county council has no money with which to provide one. That strikes me as rather odd.
We are obsessed with road safety in this country. Nowadays we cannot go anywhere without seeing speed cameras all over the place, and I understand that millions of pounds are raised in fines. Would it not be intelligent not just to plough that money into new cameras, but to spend some of it on road safety measures? One such measure might be the provision of a roundabout on that road in my constituency. The money could also fund projects for which county councils could bid if it could be proved that they would save lives. I hope that the Minister and the Government will think more about that.
I shall mention only one other issue—the joint strike fighter aircraft. I am a member of the Western European Union delegation. A number of WEU Members visited Washington recently to look at the aircraft, and we were also proud to see all the work that was going on when we went to the Farnborough air show. Some of the aircraft is manufactured in Samlesbury, in my constituency.
The issue with which I have a problem is the lack of technology transfer between the United States of America and the United Kingdom. We are fighting shoulder to shoulder throughout the world, yet when we ask for technology to be transferred to this country we receive a complete blank from the United States. We met the deputy Defence Secretary, who said that there was no problem between Government and Government but there might be a problem between industry and industry. That is clearly a load of rubbish, and indeed other Americans to whom we spoke during our visit completely discredited what he had said.
We were expecting an announcement at Farnborough about further technology transfer, but that has not happened. The joint strike fighter is an important military aircraft for the future of manufacturing in the United Kingdom. If we are to engage in future collaboration, there must be a proper understanding between the partners that technology is transferred, and that that should not happen only in one direction. The United Kingdom has transferred technology to the United States on short take-off and vertical landing. We did it in one direction; I simply cannot understand why it is not happening in the other direction. I know that the Government are already looking closely into that, but I hope that they will shortly announce that we are making further progress. We want collaborations to take place in the future, but that will require proper technology transfer—in both directions.
I shall try to be fairly brief, Madam Deputy Speaker.
There are a number of issues that I think the House should debate fully before the recess, one of which, the middle east, has already been touched on. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to reassure us that Parliament will be recalled during the recess if the situation in Lebanon deteriorates, if the situation in Iraq deteriorates and the country ends up in full civil war, and if our relationship with Iran deteriorates. Those are all serious matters that need to be dealt with in the House.
We now have a two and a half month period in which we cannot hold the Government to account. That period was shorter in the past, because we sat in September. That sitting should be reinstated so that we do not go quite so long. We still have time off during the rest of the year, but we no longer make up for it in September, so the sooner we reinstate the September sitting, the better.
To return to the current crisis in Lebanon, I have heard reports that the Israelis are using a new type of shell, the shrapnel from which is not detectable on X-ray. That makes it very difficult for the doctors who are treating the injured to remove the offending particles from the body. I hope that the Government will look further into that matter and find out whether those reports are true. I trust that the Minister will pass that on.
Domestic matters are important to my constituents and none less than water charges. South West Water has its annual general meeting this Thursday and MPs and councillors will be protesting at that meeting about the high level of water charges in the south-west—the highest in the country. As has been put on record before, 3 per cent. of the population is still paying for cleaning up 30 per cent. of the country’s beaches.
The high water charges are not just the responsibility of South West Water. They flow from the mechanisms of privatisation, whereby there is no method for spreading infrastructure costs across the country, so they have to be borne by the individual water companies. The costs in the south-west are disproportionate. With above-inflation council tax rises as well as excessive water charges, pensioner households in the south-west are spending between a fifth and a quarter of their income on those costs alone. That, quite frankly, is unacceptable.
I want to make just two further brief points. First, affordable housing is a real problem in the south-west. We need a proper debate about when the Government are going to tackle the problem of affordable housing in Devon. In Teignbridge, the cost of housing as a percentage of income is higher than anywhere in Surrey: the Government will provide assistance for emergency and other workers in Surry, but no such aid or assistance comes to Devon or to my constituency.
Lastly, I want to say a few words about planning. My background is in architecture and over many years I have watched towns being blighted by poor planning decisions. I am talking about coming into a town and having to see the back end of a supermarket because the planners were not prepared to opt for a more attractive front. The Government are able to help in respect of Government and local government buildings, and I urge them to improve the planning quality of some of their buildings.
To provide one example, a fire station was built in Teignmouth in a prime location for tourists entering the town. It is a beautiful spot. There is nothing particularly wrong with the design of the fire station; it is competent enough, but being in such a prime location, it should have been a lot better. When I argued that the fire authority should provide a better design, it said that there was no time or money to do so. That was nonsense and the problem is that the station will be there for years to come.
Yesterday, the Healthcare Commission published the results of its investigation into outbreaks of clostridium difficile in Stoke Mandeville hospital. Its report describes the most appalling human tragedy. There were more than 300 cases of people taken ill between 2003 and 2005 and more than 30 people have died either definitely or probably as a result of that infection.
Stoke Mandeville is the local hospital for the great majority of my constituents and it is the biggest employer in my constituency. To make my personal interest clear, it is the hospital at which all four of my children were born and on which my family rely for our own medical care.
The Healthcare Commission’s report described in pungent terms serious failings and misjudgments by the local management team. It is important that those lessons be clearly learned and that procedures are followed in future to avoid that shocking sequence of events happening again. However, the commission’s report also includes recommendations that clearly require a response from Ministers.
On page after page of the report, the commission describes occasions on which the wish of the infection control staff at Stoke Mandeville hospital to ensure that the control of infection and the isolation of patients was given priority over other things came up against the insistence of the hospital management that Government targets on case management, waiting times and finance had to be met first; and against a sincere, strongly held belief on the part of senior hospital management, which I know from my constituency experience is by no means confined to Stoke Mandeville, that failure to deliver on those Government targets would put people’s jobs at risk and lead to serious financial penalties being imposed on the hospital.
In the time available, I am unable to list as many examples, drawn from yesterday’s report, as I would wish. I will confine myself to one example. On page 89 of the report, the commission states:
“At Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the increased throughput of patients needed to meet performance targets resulted in patients being moved, difficulties in isolating patients with infection and high occupancy of beds.”
“The lack of suitable isolation facilities at Stoke Mandeville Hospital was exacerbated by changes to wards such as ‘ring-fencing’ surgical beds in order to deliver Government’s targets… Higher occupancy of beds meant that there was less time for thorough cleaning.”
I have visited the hospital, both as the Member of Parliament and in a private capacity as a visitor, on many occasions over the past 14 years. I have full confidence in the professionalism and dedication of its staff, from cleaners, nurses and doctors to the management. I believe that its staff can learn the lessons of the report and reassure my constituents that they can expect high-quality care when they are treated there, but I also believe that what those staff want from the Government is less insistence on inflexible targets imposed from the centre and much greater trust in the professionalism and skill of the staff at the front line to deliver the care that they have devoted their working lives to providing.
I realise that time is short, but I should like to refer to three issues in my constituency, one of which has been mentioned already by the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster), who is no longer in his seat, and it is “Creating an NHS fit for the future”—a consultation document released by the strategic health authority in my constituency. I am slightly staggered that anyone could possibly believe that that document is entirely the responsibility and in the ownership of the SHA.
In my view, that document has been produced in response to pressure from the Government to make substantial savings. Without doubt, the document will put the Royal Surrey county hospital in Guildford at serious risk. There is no doubt that services will be reduced. There are rumours about maternity services and paediatrics, and reductions in the provision of accident and emergency services are also on the cards. What is distressing to my constituents is that there is no doubt that their health will be put at risk. At a recent public meeting that I and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) organised, it was clear from the concerns of the clinicians, the GPs and other doctors that lives will be on the line if there is any downgrading of accident and emergency care.
Another point about accident and emergency departments that is sadly often overlooked is that when they are downgraded, it is often downgrading by stealth. When accident and emergency departments shut, the services that sit behind them fall as well, like a line of dominoes: research opportunities fall, as does much of the acute work taken on by the hospital, and that hospital’s ability to attract staff is greatly diminished.
Another issue that I want to raise is the funding formula. Many references have been made to the loss of hospital services in various constituencies, but I wish to draw attention to the funding formula that we are all subjected to in order to get our NHS budgets. It is commonly believed by the Government that a lot of the financial problems are due to poor management. However, I draw the Government’s attention to work done in Suffolk, and in Plymouth by Professor Asthana, which suggests precisely the opposite, which is that constituencies such as mine, which are essentially rural and slightly more affluent than most, are being chronically underfunded—so my constituents’ health is not worth as much as the health of those in constituencies such as the Prime Minister’s.
Let me briefly mention another issue that is of huge concern to many of my constituents in places such as Hurtmore, Eashing and Shackleford, as well as to a wider population: the inclusion of Eashing farm in a draft minerals plan. Let me explain what is sad about such issues: because this site has been included in a draft minerals plan, residents will be facing blight for the best part of two or three years, while waiting for a decision finally to be made. The area I have mentioned is close to a site of special scientific interest, and there will be increasing amounts of traffic and a significant impact on the local hydrology and the flow of spring water. There will also of course be noise and vibration from the extraction and associated activity; and then at the end, what will be put in the huge hole that remains? That draws attention to a problem that many of my constituents face: they feel completely powerless to have any impact on the decision making. They are faced with this tremendous blight on their homes, and they can do nothing about it.
In my constituency, people’s faith in consultation is running very thin. We have recently had decisions to close community hospitals. Decisions have been made to close the day hospital at Cranleigh, beds at Cranleigh, and the rehabilitation centre at Milford; 94 per cent. of people said that they did not want that option to go ahead, but—lo and behold—that is the option that goes ahead.
As ever, planning issues generate a huge number of concerns, which I am sure many of my hon. Friends share. Such issues include mobile phone masts, town cramming and overdevelopment of back gardens. Another issue that has not been stressed as often as some others is the cumulative effect of planning applications. There are areas to the north of Guildford where the roads are actually quite narrow and each year, bit by bit, there is planning creep; more and more applications come in, and ever more of them are accepted. There is exponential growth in that area, without the infrastructure to cope. We now have a situation in which motorists are mounting the pavements and are putting children walking to school at risk. That draws attention to the fact that local people want to have their say on planning applications. They make good decisions when given the opportunity to do so. The problem is that current planning legislation does not allow local residents to have their say.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who commented on something that the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) said earlier. I must say that I sympathise with him in having to face these difficult headlines at a time when so much money is being put into the health service, yet none of it appears to be producing the desired effect. Of course, his accident and emergency unit is under threat because the cost of providing such a unit has risen as a result of, among other things, implementing the European working time directive and not putting enough money into the health service locally to cover doing so.
I do have a word of congratulation for the national health service and for the Government, however. They have taken account of the special circumstances of the Isle of Wight in providing a united primary care trust and national health acute trust, which will be launched very shortly. I am grateful to them for taking account of my constituents’ feelings on that issue, and I wish that they would take equal account of their feelings on the shortage of dentists on the island. Some 24,000 people are still awaiting allocation to an NHS dentist, but even when they have been allocated, in two years’ time half my constituents will still be without an NHS dentist. So there are some congratulations, and some pleas for the Minister to pass on to his colleagues in the Department of Health.
I want to mention two other local issues, the first of which is pet cemeteries. Members may recall that during the first Prime Minister’s questions after the last general election, I raised with the Prime Minister the closure of a pet cemetery on the Isle of Wight as a result of licensing fees set by the Environment Agency, which was licensing it under the European landfill directive. I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister and other Ministers intervened. They all whizzed round, the Environment Agency got involved and it sent someone to visit the pet cemetery. Many months ago, I was assured that a decision had been reached and that everything in the garden was going to be rosy. In the past week, however, I received a written answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), saying that the situation had not quite been sorted out yet, but that he hoped something would be done shortly. Well, he now has until early September not to be pestered by me by means of written questions. I hope that the next time I ask him a question, he will be able to assure me that the situation has been sorted out.
The final local issue that I want to raise is concessionary fares for public transport users. I know that the Government recently introduced significant concessions for elderly people using public transport. In the run-up to the election, they introduced free local bus travel after 9.30 am, and since the election they have introduced free national local bus travel—as it were—after that time. I am pleased to say that my local authority, of which we took control in 2005 after 20 years of Liberal Democrat control, has extended that free concessionary fare so that it applies 24 hours a day, and extended it to the trains. Furthermore, it has implemented a 50p flat-rate fare for people aged under 19 who are in full-time education, so that they can travel anywhere on the island, by train or bus, for that fare.
Those are great achievements, but my real concern is that the Government seem to think that there is only one mode of public transport: the bus. I visited the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) when she was a transport Minister, and I invited her to think about whether there should be concessions on water-borne transport, as well as on buses. She said that it was not up to her, and that the Chancellor had thought about that issue. It is clear that the Chancellor does not know that there are such things as ferries, despite living in Scotland, so no money was available in the first tranche of concessionary fares for users of ferries.
Sad to say, the Chancellor did not get the message from the Department for Transport in time for the introduction of the wider range of concessionary fares, so there are still no such fares for elderly people travelling by ferry, apart from those provided through the benevolence of the ferry operators. Will the Government consider whether it is fair that one can have free or concessionary travel on a bus, but not on equally important journeys to hospital, the shops, school, university or work if one happens to need to travel by ferry? I hope that the Minister will pass that on.
Several other hon. Members have raised my final issue, so I shall abbreviate what I intended to say. I feel most profoundly that the Minister for the Middle East sounds as if he cares about what is happening in both Israel and Lebanon. He spoke like a Minister who cared, not a Minister who was speaking in code or who sounded like the speaking clock. We have spoken of the troubles and how they were caused, and I do not wish to go into that because we have said enough about it today.
I regret profoundly, however, that the United Kingdom has lost its role as honest broker in the middle east—a role that it had redeveloped since the Suez crisis 50 years ago—largely as a result of the Prime Minister behaving like Mr. Bush’s poodle and as a result of his frankly ridiculous stories about why we should invade Iraq, stories that, I am pleased to say, some Opposition Members did not believe. We are now in the terrible position of apparently simply parroting the words of Mr. Bush. Last week the Minister for the Middle East said that we should not simply call for a ceasefire. On Sunday, Condoleezza Rice said that we should be calling for a ceasefire, so yesterday the Prime Minister said that we should call for a ceasefire. That is behaving more like a parrot than a Prime Minister and leader of a serious nation.
My greatest concern is the hostility to this country that has arisen across the Arab world and, in particular, among the 1.6 million Muslims in this country. It is profoundly distressing to see people on the streets of this country defending either of the participants in a foreign war. We should not have foreign wars fought out, even figuratively speaking, on the streets of this country by adherents on either side. If people come to this country, they should expect to support what is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and its people, not what is in the best interests of the countries from which they came or the religions to which they belong. I hope that the Minister will take back to the Prime Minister the need to show more balance in the treatment of both sides in the terrible events in the middle east.
Under previous Governments no one in clinical need would be refused treatment by the NHS. But the new NHS denies treatments to sufferers from Alzheimer’s disease, and it denies anti-TNF treatments to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. This rationed NHS is becoming less humane.
Depriving brain tumour patients of drugs that can prolong their lives condemns people to a premature death. I declare an interest as my son is a neurosurgeon. The fact that we have come so far from an NHS based on clinical judgment is evidenced by the 36 neuro-oncologists who wrote to the Secretary of State for Health to ask that two treatments—temozolomide and carmustine implants—be made available to all brain tumour patients who need them.
It may be time to ensure that the methodologies of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence are based on scientific evidence and that NICE takes into account the wider economic, societal and human costs or benefits when making its decisions. Why do other countries achieve palpably better outcomes on health and associated matters? For instance, buphenorphine stops morphine being taken up by the cell receptors and helps addicts come off drugs. It is used in France, where they achieve a retention rate of 88 per cent., with only a 7 per cent. delinquent rate on follow-up. But in the UK, only 28 per cent. of drug treatment and testing orders are completed satisfactorily and reconviction rates are 80 per cent., opposite figures to those achieved in France. Why are survival rates in the UK for brain cancers so low, compared with other parts of Europe? How has Australia managed to identify 80 per cent. of its chronic hepatitis C cases, compared with only 23 per cent. in the UK? I am sure that many excellent colleagues from all sides of the House will join me in pushing the Government to review their policies on NICE.
In addition, I ask the Government to remove the uncertainty over Remploy, which is causing great concern. Although I understand that the Southend branch that employs so many of my constituents is not at risk, I hope that Ministers will make a statement—over the recess, if necessary—so that the minds of vulnerable people can be put at rest.
We must welcome the trilateral talks on Gibraltar and its constitutional reform, to which Gibraltar’s First Minister Peter Caruana has adopted a very positive approach. In addition, we must praise and thank Cyprus for its contribution to the international effort on the evacuation of people from Lebanon. The UK must support both communities in Cyprus in the work to get a just settlement through the UN process agreed by Tassos Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat. That process should begin immediately and involve bi-communal discussions of all the issues. The UK must support and help Turkey in every way in its bid to join the EU, as it is probable that that will be one of the catalysts to the achievement of a solution to the Cyprus problem.
Finally, I always hoped that the UK would be able to retain its sovereignty in the EU and bring about root-and-branch reform from within, but I now accept that Sir Teddy Taylor was right all along and that I was wrong. Our rebate and national sovereignty are under threat, as waste and corruption increase in the EU as a result of the increasing failure of accounts and controls.
Nowadays, two thirds of our laws are made in Europe and not in this Parliament, but there is no proper scrutiny or democratic accountability. Therefore, I now accept that the best—the only—way forward for the UK is to withdraw from the EU. That would enable us to protect our borders better, and to generate more jobs and wealth. We would then be able to take better care of our citizens, especially those vulnerable people who, like the Remploy employees, are deeply worried about their jobs.
I, too, shall be brief. I want to raise several matters that affect my constituents, whose concern for people elsewhere in the world I find very heartening.
The city of Edinburgh is my home city, and that of the Deputy Leader of the House. It is hard to believe that a year has passed since the Make Poverty History marches took place there. Hopes were high and promises were made, but since then the World Trade Organisation talks have collapsed, with trade-distorting subsidies by the EU and US remaining as a barrier to helping poor countries trade their way out of poverty.
A number of constituents have contacted me about the situation in Lebanon after watching the daily television images of the conflict there. The images have been gruesome enough, but they are merely a sanitised version of what is really happening on the ground. Other hon. Members have spoken about their concerns in this debate, but my greatest fear is that Israel’s policy in respect of Lebanon is the single biggest threat to its own future as a state. It cannot carry on as it has, and the Governments of the UK and the US should change their approach and put pressure on Israel. The Prime Minister says that he has a special relationship with the US President: if so, he must use it to that end.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) made an excellent speech, and I disagree with very little of what she said. If time permits, however, I too intend to mention the question of nuclear power.
Various hon. Members this afternoon have spoken about access to water, which is an important matter for many countries in the developing world. I am fortunate enough to be a member of the Select Committee on International Development, and we will look at the matter later in the year. We are in the middle of a long, hot summer and think that we are suffering, but I am pleased to say that many people are aware of the serious problems that arise further afield.
I am pleased that the Government have taken action on the Child Support Agency. I was elected five years ago, and hardly a week has gone by without constituents turning up to my advice surgery with serious complaints about the CSA. The shake-up will be of little comfort to their families if it is only a fanfare of Government spin and the new system does not adequately pursue the errant fathers or ex-partners who do not pay the money due to mothers and to their children.
Throughout the past year, with the support of a number of local community groups in my constituency, I have raised their problems in organising local events. They are being hampered by their battle against the red tape that stifles too many of their good efforts. I should like to go into more detail, but unfortunately time is against me.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred 20 years ago, and I want to record my opposition to a new generation of nuclear power stations and to reinforce the importance of investing in energy efficiency, microgeneration and renewable energy. There are many more things I could say, but time is against the House and I want to give other Members the opportunity to contribute.
I shall be brief. First, I want to mention endowment shortfalls, which a number of my constituents have raised with me. The House and the Government are not taking the issue seriously. Statistics tell us that many endowment policies will come to fruition in the next five to 10 years, and a large number of our constituents will find themselves in serious financial difficulty. The Treasury Committee should look into the matter and might encourage the industry to consider how to deal with the shortfalls. The Committee could also consider whether unclaimed assets might be used, as they should be for people whose pensions have collapsed.
My second point is that parents should choose whether their child attends a special or a mainstream school. It is outrageous that parents are forced either to keep their child in a mainstream school when they think the child would do better in a specialist school, and vice versa. Parents know their children better than anyone else—certainly better than any local education authority official. We must reach a position where parents decide on their child’s school.
My third point is the need for an index of social and domestic cohesion. That sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but the House will have an opportunity to do something about it when the Bill on the Office for National Statistics is introduced in the autumn. It is a curious fact that the social exclusion unit lists eight indicators of social deprivation, one of which is family breakdown. All the other seven indicators are reflected in the indices of deprivation published in the ONS neighbourhood statistics, but family breakdown is not. There is no reason for that omission and we could rectify it in the House in the autumn. I urge my Front-Bench colleagues and the Government to consider the matter when the Bill comes before the House.
Lastly, I want to raise my concern that the Prison Service has closed the inner change programme in Dartmoor prison. We know that such programmes reduced recidivism rates from 55 to 8 per cent. in several American states. The inner change programme could have been treated like the alpha course, which runs in many prisons, but the Prison Service chose not to do so, which is a tragedy. I am unhappy about what I have learned about that case and shall raise it on other occasions, because it needs to be examined.
I want to draw attention to my local authority’s campaign, which I endorse, for a fair deal for Croydon. The campaign has a cross-party basis, with the involvement of the three Croydon MPs and the parties represented in the London borough of Croydon. It may have been modelled on a cross-party campaign in the London borough of Sutton, which successfully argued for proper area cost adjustment treatment for the local authority. Indeed, so successful was that campaign that Sutton residents receive £29 a head more than Croydon residents.
Many of our troubles financially in Croydon are down to our own errors and mistakes in holding a referendum on council tax. After the referendum, we had a 27 per cent. increase in the council tax four years ago. However, the director of finance at Croydon council now predicts that a 71 per cent. increase in council tax will be required over the next four years. The situation is unreasonable when compared with that in a borough such as Ealing, which has a similar rate of unemployment, the same rate of owner occupation, the same number of council tenants and a fairly similar proportion of black and minority ethnic communities. The rate of payment is £422 per head in Ealing, but only £306 per head in Croydon. I have asked many questions over the past year about Government funding streams for Croydon and they have shown that we get a rate much below that which is available in other parts of London. We are going through dynamic change in terms of our population make-up and I hope that the fair deal for Croydon will get a fair hearing in the next Session.
Until a month ago, plans were at a very advanced stage for a massive £160 million expansion of Colchester general hospital. Planning permission had been given and the general public—not to mention all those involved with the national health service locally—were looking forward to the much-needed development and facilities being provided. There were hopes last year that work would start in January this year. It did not. Then, without any notice, last month the plug was pulled. The scheme had been aborted.
It is not my intention today to engage in the blame game. What I and my constituents want is not answers relating to what went wrong, but answers relating to what the Department of Health is going to do to provide the people and town of Colchester, and the wider area of north Essex, with the hospital facilities and services that, up to last month, they had been promised, and that those responsible for the NHS at a local, regional and national level had concluded were of great necessity. Why else had so much time, effort and money been spent on taking forward an officially sanctioned £160 million expansion?
As a result of parliamentary questions that I tabled, last week it was revealed that the Department of Health has not even bothered to talk to Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust, which is responsible for Colchester general hospital, about the collapse of the expansion scheme. The information that I gleaned prompted the Colchester Evening Gazette last Friday to publish a comment article headed “Sort this mess out now”.
A senior member of staff at Colchester general hospital has used much more colourful language to express his seething disapproval of what has happened. He told me last night:
“Senior consultants are appalled by the way in which our PFI was axed without any meaningful consultation with those who will now find themselves in a Health Service ‘poverty trap’.”
I am no fan of the private finance initiative to fund public services and buildings. They tend to end up costing the public purse more—mortgaging future generations with huge debts—and operate on the basis of generating profit for the private sector companies at the expense of public services, to the disadvantage of both those working in the public services and the public who use those services.
Colchester is growing rapidly. There are extensive residential developments not only in the town but throughout north Essex. We have a bigger population and an increasingly ageing one. The present hospital facilities are simply inadequate. There has to be expansion. The cost of the abandoned expansion has been put at £10 million wasted. Of that, about £3 million has been lost by the NHS—by the local Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust and the NHS centrally—and an estimated £7 million by the private sector partner. However, it has been reported that the private sector partner will seek to recover the £7 million it has spent, which, if the Department of Health caves in and agrees, will see the total loss to the NHS being anything up to £10 million, without anything to show for it.
The situation is so serious that last week Colchester borough council registered its deep concerns, with all three political parties tabling motions on the subject. The council resolved to invite the Secretary of State for Health
“to share urgently with the people of north-east Essex her alternative strategy for delivery of the expansion of their hospital and the development of local cancer services within the timetable originally envisaged.”
There are real fears locally that unless cancer services are centralised at Colchester general hospital, as had been agreed, many of those services will be transferred to other towns. An urgent assurance is therefore sought that the promise of improved cancer treatment services centred on Colchester general hospital will be delivered. There is, however, a sliver of a silver lining to the dark cloud, because scrapping the privately funded £160 million expansion will save taxpayers from a financial millstone. They would have had to foot the bill over the next 30 years.
The big issue now is what happens next. We have to make up for four years of time and effort that has been wasted on the costly PFI adventure, and to seek funds directly from the Government to pay for the developments that have been identified as being required. For decades, under successive Conservative and Labour Governments, residents of Colchester and north Essex have received less than their fair share of NHS funding. In 2001, after two years of local debate, the then Secretary of State for Health approved a £2.4 million grant for the local trust to embark on the Government’s recommended and approved PFI process to obtain the finances to underpin a truly centralised and modernised service.
Time is against me, but let me just conclude with the comments of my source:
“If the Government had the wit of a potato it would see the obvious and step back from destroying the fabric and function of the NHS. Our patients deserve better than what is on offer. Patient choice under this administration seems to come down to ‘take it or lump it’.”
It is to be hoped that the Department of Health will do the decent thing and fund the £160 million expansion that, as has been proved, is clearly needed at Colchester general hospital.
We must have had a record number of speakers and a record number of issues raised in a summer recess Adjournment debate. I start by referring to the comments made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) about our former colleague, the late Kevin Hughes. He was indeed a decent and hard-working Member of the House, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.
It is not surprising that a large number of speeches were about the health service. The debate was kicked off by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who bemoaned the cut in funding for hospital redevelopment in his constituency, and he particularly mentioned Leicester general hospital, which will not get the money it was expecting. That theme was continued by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who referred to the lack of provision and the rationing of treatment, particularly for Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis. As a patron of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, I share his concerns on that point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) mentioned the uncertain future of community hospitals, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) echoed what he said, pointing out that many community hospitals have provided excellent care but face an uncertain future. That is a problem not just in Cumbria or Kent, but across the country, as many community hospitals are under threat. Although the Government have offered capital funding for community hospitals, the issue is not capital but revenue. As Jim Hacker found out, there is not much point in building a new hospital if one cannot treat the patients. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) echoed some of those concerns in his references to boom and bust in the health service.
Concerns about the health service were shared by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—at least I think he was talking about the health service in that amazing display of fast talking. From what I gathered, in his area, too, there is a hospital development that is now not being funded. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) talked about the Government’s need to accept the impact of their policies at grass-roots level. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) mentioned the specific problems of oxygen supply—like many other hon. Members, I have received complaints from constituents about that, as many people have been left in considerable difficulties as a result of the way in which the Government let the contract.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) spoke in measured terms about the report published yesterday on the outbreak of a deadly infection in Stoke Mandeville, which led to 30 deaths. He also drew attention to the need for clinical decisions to take priority over Government targets, and I understand that that theme runs through the report.
There was a note of praise for the health service—my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) was grateful to the Government for listening to local people in relation to the arrangements for the Isle of Wight primary care trust, but he pointed out—as he has assiduously in a number of debates, and in other ways in the House—the problem of the lack of access to dentists for many of his constituents. That problem is echoed in many constituencies across the country.
The most amazing contribution on the health service was made by the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster), who seemed to say that everything was fine and the problem was just the media, despite the fact that he has a petition with 20,000 signatures complaining about potential cuts in health services in his constituency. That suggests that there are problems there, rather than their simply being raised by the media. Jobs are being cut; we are not simply talking about headlines. He asked, in so many words, where all the money has gone. He said that many of his constituents felt that lots of money had gone into the health service—indeed it has—but in many areas the money is not being spent on improving care. In many areas hospitals are under threat of loss of services or, indeed, closure. What I thought was amazing about the contribution was that the hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that many of the cuts are a direct result of Government policy. It is the constant structural change, bureaucracy and targets that are wasting so much money and taking it away from where it should be spent, on improving patient care.
It is not surprising that many hon. Members referred to the middle east. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) spoke with passion about his view of the response of the international community. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) who, sadly, contributed to a recess Adjournment debate and is not present at the end of it, focused on the plight of civilians who bear the brunt of hostile action. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) spoke about the crisis, as did the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who was concerned at the Government’s position—an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight as well. Many of us were concerned at the Prime Minister’s reported stance in discussions with the US President at the G8 summit, where he appeared to be willing to follow in the wake of the United States.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton made a crucial point when she spoke of our need to provide proper resources for our troops. We send men and women out to fight on our behalf. It is only right that we should provide them with the resources necessary to do the job.
Development issues, particularly garden grabbing, were highlighted by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and for Guildford. The hon. Member for Teignbridge also mentioned planning design standards and affordable housing, especially as it affects certain rural areas.
Economic issues were discussed by a number of hon. Members. We had an interesting history lesson from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) on the past development of the city. He promoted Hartlepool as a tourist venue, and I wish him all the very best in encouraging greater numbers of tourists to visit it. I congratulate those who worked to ensure that Hartlepool will be the venue for the tall ships in the future.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border made his customary impassioned plea for the economy of Cumbria, with particular reference to the plight of dairy farmers, and the interests of his constituents and others in Cumbria in relation to the continuation of the nuclear power plant in Cumbria and the value of Sellafield to the economy.
The hon. Member for North Swindon who, I am afraid, also contributed to a recess Adjournment debate and is not in his place at the end of the debate, addressed an aspect of the economy—the need to ensure that we apply science to improve our competitiveness. His point about the low numbers taking maths post-16 was well made.
Another spirited performance came from my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who promoted the interests of his constituents in relation to the A59, and also promoted the future of the joint strike fighter aircraft.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale raised four separate matters in his contribution. He spoke about the impact on the health of those living where buildings have been built on landfill sites, which is a concern in my constituency where development is proposed on landfill sites. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the problems of wheel clamping which, sadly, have not gone away as a result of the Government’s Act. As he noted, there is a still a lack of information for people about their own position. He also referred to the lack of access to the court register, a valid point that I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will take up. The hon. Member for North Swindon has come into the Chamber. I therefore apologise for my previous remark. Sadly, he missed what I said about him in other respects, but it is good of him to turn up eventually. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale also spoke about the hopes of the Daresbury research centre for the future work there. I know the impact that the decision about the location of the diamond synchrotron in Oxfordshire had on his constituency, so I wish him the best in his campaign.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) spoke with passion about her constituent caught up in the confusion of our citizenship laws, and also raised the need for funding for research on aspects of obesity. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) spoke about the changes that have taken place in regiments in Northern Ireland, and rightly paid tribute to the commitment and gallantry with which members of those regiments serve in our armed forces. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam mentioned temporary event notices. We raised the issue with the Government on many occasions last year. They are the worst of all worlds. Not enough TENs are issued for most village halls, churches and schools to be able to do what they want to do, yet a loophole enables pubs to get round the conditions.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) was right to raise the issue of the collapse of the world trade talks, which should be of concern to us all, particularly those campaigning for the interests of developing countries, and the poor in those countries. He also referred to the Government’s action on the CSA. Sadly, it is rather less action than the Government were spinning in their headlines yesterday, and I fear that many families will be disappointed.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) gave his usual thoughtful contribution, highlighting an issue that will be of real concern in future—endowment shortages. He also spoke, as he has done on other occasions, about the need for parents to have the right to choose where their children with special needs should be educated. I was interested in his index of family cohesion. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) spoke up for a fair deal for Croydon.
Throughout, a wide range of concerns have been raised; more than I have ever heard raised in a recess Adjournment debate before. I hope that the Government will listen seriously to the points and recognise the common thread that has run through so many of the contributions. The Government are wasting so much of our taxpayers’ money and people sadly feel powerless as the Government ignore local views and fail to understand the impact that is caused by their policies.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all right hon. and hon. Members a very happy summer recess.
I have had the pleasure of listening to all 27 contributions in the debate and I shall respond to as many as I can, note the comments that I do not respond to on the Floor of the House, and draw them, where appropriate, to the responsible Minister’s attention.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) for raising the hospital question and highlighting the £500 million of additional expenditure that is going in, and I am sure that his neighbour and colleague, the Secretary of State for Health, will be aware of the issues that he has raised. In respect of his constituent whose conviction was quashed, I hope that he is seeking a meeting with the Minister. I understand that he has already raised the matter. I shall certainly make inquiries about the outcome of that. In respect of the compensation to a UK citizen who has business interests in the Lebanon, again I will ensure that his concerns are noted.
There were widespread concerns throughout the House about what is happening in Lebanon. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East were at the Dispatch Box earlier today and explained our concerns unequivocally. The route that Israel has embarked on is folly in failing to target properly those Hezbollah bases, missiles and training camps, and by causing unnecessary suffering to civilians, including children, and also, as the Minister said earlier, unnecessary damage to the infrastructure that does not appear to be connected to the terrorist activities. I do not believe that Israel has done itself a good service in its reaction. Indeed, it has probably lost friends. Like all hon. Members, I unreservedly condemn Hezbollah. Its actions have been evil. To send off missiles into civilian populations indiscriminately by way of retaliation beggars belief, is completely unjustifiable and is provoking Israel beyond endurance.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) raised a number of issues, including temporary event notices. I and the Government expect the local authorities responsible for licensing to use their powers to the maximum to ensure that where the lives of local residents are being disrupted, they take action, whether through noise abatement enforcement or other powers. There are powers to close premises where temporary events are taking place and where disorder and public nuisance issues arise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) mentioned an issue that affects his constituents and others—the possible previous contamination of sites and the right of people to make what he called an informed choice. I shall certainly ensure that his message is reinforced with my ministerial colleagues. He mentioned a number of other important issues, including the way in which we treat the convictions of people who are mentally ill. Indeed, a Bill is being prepared at the moment, and I hope that it reassures the public on that issue.
With great diligence, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) always raises the problems of rural farmers and of dairy farmers in particular. He mentioned a fact that may surprise hon. Members—Cumbria is the slowest growing part of an economy in the EU—and my hon. Friends would like to see the evidence to which he referred. He called for massive intervention and wants assisted area designation. I am not sure whether assisted area designation will be granted, but no one will put the case more forcefully than him. He also voiced his strong support for nuclear power and Sellafield and discussed the issue of community hospitals. While commending the Government on the £750 million allocated to community hospitals, like many hon. Members he voiced concerns about the provision of hospitals locally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) spoke for many of us in her views on the present conflict in the middle east. She condemned the neo-cons, and I have some sympathy with that. I thought it disgraceful that Pat Buchanan could call for the assassination of an elected president in south America. He is not the sort of person who should be granted the right to come to Britain until he completely rejects such dreadful views. She also discussed nuclear power and Trident, both of which will be subject to intense debates, and votes, in this Chamber.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) spoke about the problems with public service contracts. She mentioned the issue of oxygen cylinders, of which I am aware. There are a number of contracts, and my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health are actively ensuring that officials monitor all contracts to ensure that the sort of problems raised by her and by another hon. Member are tackled, so that the provision reaches the best of the providers and not providers that are less than adequate for meeting the needs of her constituents and others. She mentioned the important issue of equipment for the armed forces, and I am sure that all Ministry of Defence Ministers monitor that matter with great care.
On the same subject, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned the honourable role played by former members of the armed forces in policing, which, as he said, should be recognised. I understand that my ministerial colleagues are examining that matter in response to his representations and others.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) highlighted a key problem involving her constituent and I shall ensure that the matter is drawn to the attention of colleagues, because it seems most unfair.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) praised his health authority and highlighted some problems. I am aware of many of the issues because I have been studying a few of the reports in the past week, such as, “Learning the lessons from financial failures in the NHS”, which highlights the 25 trusts that are responsible for 70 per cent. of the overspend. Those trusts show a catalogue of mismanagement and poor financial control.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) mentioned his local problems. I refer him to a fairly damning report by PricewaterhouseCoopers on his own trust, which highlighted the mismanagement and problems there. It is important that all Members read those reports and find out, if their health trusts are listed there, what they should be doing to address the problems—
It being Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Compensation Act 2006
Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Act 2006
International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006
Government of Wales Act 2006
Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006