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Column 799

Soames, Nicholas

Speed, Sir Keith

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Spink, Dr Robert

Spring, Richard

Sproat, Iain

Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Steen, Anthony

Stephen, Michael

Stern, Michael

Stewart, Allan

Streeter, Gary

Sumberg, David

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thomason, Roy

Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)

Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)

Tracey, Richard

Tredinnick, David

Trend, Michael

Trotter, Neville

Twinn, Dr Ian

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Viggers, Peter

Waldegrave, Rt Hon William

Walden, George

Walker, Bill (N Tayside)

Waller, Gary

Ward, John

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Waterson, Nigel

Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Willetts, David

Wilshire, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Wolfson, Mark

Yeo, Tim

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Timothy Wood.

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Question accordingly negatived .

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow .

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RAF Bentwaters

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]

10.13 pm

Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich): Before opening this debate, I would like to make a brief statement. I understand that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) criticised me on a point of order this afternoon for not formally notifying the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that I had arranged an Adjournment debate on a place within his constituency.

If the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes had done me the courtesy of notifying me of his intention, I would have been present in the Chamber to explain and apologise. He did not, so I must apologise now. I was not aware of that convention, and I would not have breached it had I known. I accept your strictures on the matter, Madam Speaker, and I apologise unreservedly to you.

The root of the matter is the question of the future of RAF Bentwaters. Its history--for those Members who are interested--is that, until 1993, there were up to 13,000 US service men based at Bentwaters. Their departure in 1993 had a significant economic impact across the whole of east Suffolk, including my constituency of Ipswich. All Suffolk Members should be concerned--I certainly am--about its future use.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cann: No, I will not.

The assets involved in Bentwaters include 1,000 acres of land, 77 homes, 41 flats, 1,000 apartments and 2 million sq ft of offices, industrial space and storage. It is a major asset for the future of east Suffolk and Ipswich, and it must be used properly.

One can imagine the concern that many of us felt when the decision was announced on 8 February that the Government proposed to sell the site--a valuable asset which could create hundreds of jobs--to an organisation known as the Maharishi Yoga Foundation.

The stated aim of the organisation is to achieve a 4,000-place university of natural law which would be accredited to proper universities and which would produce degree courses, each of which would involve twice-daily, 20- minute sessions of transcendental meditation which--for those not in the know--is bouncing up and down on one's backside while shouting out mantras for the security and well-being of the rest of us. The reaction of many people in my constituency was that they were--rightly, in my view--against the proposal.

First, it is unrealistic, as the projected university will not achieve accreditation. The Foundation proposes to make the dead father of the Maharishi himself the chancellor of the university in perpetuity, which gives many of us little faith in the future of the enterprise.

We should look at what the organisation has achieved previously. Mentmore Towers--a huge mansion--was sold to the Foundation in 1978, and there are only about 40 people in occupation of all of those rooms. There will be no economic gain to my constituency--or to the constituency of the grinning Secretary of State for the Environment--if the proposal goes ahead.

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Secondly, Suffolk is one of the few counties in the country which has no university of its own. Many of us in Ipswich are working hard to try to achieve a university for Suffolk based on the existing Suffolk college in Ipswich, and anything misnaming itself a university within Suffolk will only cut against that legitimate aim.

Mr. Spring: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cann: No, the hon. Gentleman will not give way. [Hon. Members:-- "He is a Suffolk Member."] Suffolk Members turn up when Suffolk Members choose. They usually do so only to cause trouble, and never to support Suffolk.

I saw the junior Minister responsible, Lord Henley, to discuss the matter recently. I was assured that the price offered by the foundation was the best offered, and I accepted that. He further assured me that the Maharishi Yoga Foundation is--God knows how--a registered charity, and that its business plan fits the planning brief for the area. Therefore, he had no choice but to go ahead. Since then, because of the publicity, I have received a deluge of letters from people all over the country--London, Birmingham, Yorkshire, the west midlands, Wales, Canada, the United States of America and Australia--telling me about what has happened when people have joined that organisation.

The gist of the letters is that young recruits are drawn into the cult-- that is what it is--and are charged the earth, even for an introduction, never mind for taking the courses. They are promised peace and enlightenment through transcendental meditation, which involves chanting a mantra, bouncing up and down and pretending to fly, and jumping on to mattresses in the lotus position. They are told that, if they achieve the £3,000 course, which comes later, they will be able to fly properly, although they must never show anyone else that they can do so, and to go through walls--even thick ones, I am told--or, more importantly, they are told.

Some people may say that that is fair enough, and that it is a scam, but that is all. It is not all. The maharishi now controls a £2 billion empire from headquarters in Switzerland, with places in America and Skelmersdale and the one projected in Suffolk. Courses are sold at colossal cost to people who are taken in.

The cult pretends to provide medicines. Two members of the organisation--I was going to say the tendency--were struck off by the General Medical Council for selling medicines made of faecal matter to help people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. They persuaded people to come off AZT, which is the medicine best known for helping people with AIDS. A long list of people have presented themselves to various organisations. After the organisation has dealt with people, they have to attend self-help groups because of mental damage, depression and epilepsy.

I am aware that some Conservative Members will not accept my word, so, with your permission, Madam Speaker, I will quote briefly from six of the letters that I have received, which I have offered to the Ministry of Defence.

This letter is from several people--one has a BA and another a PhD--who write:

"We know of one person in particular who, after practising TM"--

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transcendental meditation--

"and teaching the subject for many years would have periods of catatonic states where she was unable to work or function properly for days at a time. Another boy suffered epilepsy after practising TM for several years and believes it to be the cause. Another branch of TM is the prescription and selling of certain `medication', claiming to be Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Two English Doctors who were prescribing this medicine have now been struck off the medical register for attempting to cure people of diseases such as Aids with medicines which when examined in a laboratory were found to contain faecal matter."

Another letter reads:

"My own objections are based on the knowledge we have gained from those who have had first hand experience of the movement and its founder. A few years ago we met someone who was once one of the right-hand men of the Maharishi. He is now writing a book . . . He has said that he saw how crooked and irreligious this so called `holy man' actually is. He extorts money and takes the virginity of young female disciples; the family suffered loss of all their money and his wife was actually forced to have sex with the `guru' under the pretence that it might be good for her spirituality. She became a manic depressive after using and teaching all the techniques of TM for some years. Finally desperate and ruined they left TM after realising that his wife had lost the will to live and that he had in addition to all this never found the enlightenment that he had been seeking.

Another friend of ours who is an ex-Barrister and well educated from a wealthy and established background was literally reduced to a barking, growling and totally degraded wreck. We saw this with our own eyes and were extremely shocked having had no previous preconceptions about this technique."

[Interruption.] I notice that the committed Christian on the Government Front Bench laughs about that technique.

Another letter is from a psychiatrist, who says:

"I am deeply suspicious of the motives of this group as I have had several patients who have been troubled with depression and in some cases epilepsy" --

letter after letter claims that epilepsy has been caused-- "subsequent to long-term practice of this `meditation'.

The patients have had a feeling of being brain-washed by the group, which in some cases has taken years to shake off, despite the fact that the group purport to being an innocuous form of relaxation."

Another letter states:

"I have known a number of people, several of them close friends, who, having taken TM courses over a period of time, developed mental and physical problems, some of a subtle nature, and others . . . resembling symptoms of epilepsy. After an initial sense of wellbeing, depression, confusion and an inability to deal with day to day living were commonly experienced.

A substantial fee is charged for TM courses, especially for so-called `advanced' courses and `flying techniques' (which you may have seen demonstrated on . . . broadcasts some years ago). Through charging high fees TM has become an extremely wealthy organisation, while gradually destroying the wellbeing of its customers." A psychiatric report published in 1976, entitled "Psychiatric Problems Precipitated by Transcendental Meditation", said:

"The first `meditation casualty' I encountered was a 34-yr.-old woman who made a serious suicidal attempt following a weekend training course in Transcendental Meditation. Since then I have come across several people who allege that such meditation exacerbated their depressive affect. Similarly, several agitated, restive individuals have reported that the basic procedure of repeating a mantra"--

which is often a word like "teapot" in Indian--

"tended to heighten their ongoing tension and restlessness."

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My final letter is from the mayor of Rantoul in Illinois, where the outfit tried to buy an ex-base. It says:

"This letter is in response to your request for information about the Maharishi organisation that we dealt with in Rantoul in 1992. It was a most frustrating experience and I am happy that we no longer are involved. Representatives of the Maharishi International University"--

which is what they call it over there--

"of Fairfield, Iowa, visited us and represented themselves as a reputable university. We gave them the benefit of the doubt for quite a while and shared with them our plans for re-use of Chanute Air Force Base which involves a diverse plan for some 2,500 acres of land.

We did find that MIU made many claims that they could not substantiate. They indicated that US News and World Report magazine had rated MIU among the top universities in the United States. A check with US News revealed this not to be true."

Hon. Members who represent Suffolk will recognise the kind of thing that they are being told by that organisation.

The letter went on:

"When the time came for anyone to make application to obtain any of the CAFB properties, MIU ignored completely any of Rantoul's plans for redevelopment, and contrary to any of their discussions with us, they applied for the entire base property.

We found them not to be what they professed at all. They are interested in obtaining lots of property at no cost and excluding anyone not associated with the mediators."

Since receiving those letters, I have written to the Secretary of State for Defence, and sent a copy to the Secretary of State for the Environment. The letter was dated 7 March but, to date, I have not had the courtesy of a reply from the Secretary of State for the Environment.

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