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12.4 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I am sorry that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have not been able to participate in the debate. That is most unfortunate. However, the Parliamentary Secretary and I have cut down our remarks considerably and will be speaking for rather less time than the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) in order to try to answer the debate. We have heard 15 speeches which have raised some 31 or 32 issues. It would be almost impossible to deal with them all in just over 10 minutes, but I will deal with as many as I can.

Many of my colleagues have referred to the importance of this debate in the parliamentary calendar. As I saw the frustration on the faces of some hon. Members it occurred to me that the next time we do this we should continue the debate until 2 o'clock. That would give everybody an opportunity to participate. Perhaps we should ask Madam Speaker to consider limiting speeches to a maximum of 15 minutes. Those two changes would give everybody the opportunity to participate. Fifteen minutes is a reasonable limit and would enable more colleagues to get in.

This is one of the few opportunities that Back-Bench Members have to bring to the House issues that are causing them concern. Although there was no common thread running through the speeches--nobody would expect that--there was common concern to put before the House issues of considerable importance.

No hon. Member has been frivolous. We have heard some amusing comments and that is good. I am delighted that my omnibus Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) managed to contribute again. He does not abuse the time of the House. He spoke for only 10 minutes and raised eight issues. I am pleased for him that the Palace theatre in Westcliff, although dark at the moment, will have its pantomime horse back at the end of the year. I am sorry that the police horses will not be there to patrol the crowds as they go in to watch my hon. Friend's bravura performance.

We began with a serious speech from the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) who is an habitual contributor to these debates. We are glad that he has made a full recovery. He talked about the tragic incidents in his constituency and that of his hon. Friend the Member for

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Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) of the two ladies who had their breasts removed unnecessarily. He made a powerful plea for a national inquiry and some national standards. I hope that his words will be heeded by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and, more importantly, by the Secretary of State for Health. It was an important issue to raise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham andMid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) talked about the literally growing problem of leylandii hedges. There is probably not an hon. Member who has not had experience of this problem. He was right to draw it to our attention. He also talked about the NSPCC's important campaign on cruelty to children. He spoke with all the knowledge of a trustee of that most important organisation. I hope that all hon. Members will back that campaign. However, it is important that we never encourage those who make spurious allegations against parents. It has reached an absurd position in some cases where the most minor chastisement of a child is interpreted in some quarters as abuse. It is important to get the balance right. He also talked about the expectations we place upon the police and he was right to do so.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) made what I would call a classic speech for this debate because he focused on one issue of great concern to him and his constituency--the future of Bridge hospital. He hopes that it will not be closed. I cannot comment in detail because I do not know the hospital, but he made a cogent case which deserves a cogent and well thought out answer. I hope that he will get that from Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) illustrated how important it is that we should have in the House hon. Members who have practical experience of the subjects about which they are speaking. There can be no hon. Member who knows more about an individual subject than my hon. Friend knows about the meat industry. The Government must take to heart his plea for the owners of small abattoirs and his illustration of the plight of pig producers. It is ludicrous that some of the owners of small abattoirs are facing, within a very short time, an escalation of costs up to 10 times or more what they are paying now. That can have only one catastrophic result, which my hon. Friend pointed out graphically, and that is the closure of those small abattoirs and nobody will benefit from that. He was also right to talk about the plight of the pig industry and how ludicrous it is that foreign imports of a far inferior quality will force out our own, wonderful, home-produced pork and other pig products.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who nearly always talks about international affairs in these debates, turned his attention to Kashmir. He did the House a service in so doing. It is an immensely complicated and almost intractable problem and I will be careful what I say about it. All I would tell him is that it is right to use the Floor of the House to raise such issues. Let us hope that, with the dexterity that was not apparent when the Foreign Secretary first ventured to comment on the issue, the right hon. Gentleman will return to it and may play a part in bringing together India and Pakistan. Without their complete agreement and a binding settlement the problem will fester into the next century.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) mentioned a problem in his constituency and made some serious accusations about a company. He made them with such

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quiet passion that I hope that they will be investigated. If the situation is indeed as he described it, that company has behaved very badly.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) talked about the A3 at Hindhead and asked for some replies to her questions, as she has a right to do. She also mentioned the fact that Ministers have refused to see deputations. I have had experience of that problem when roads and education issues havebeen raised. The Minister refused to meet Members of Parliament who represent Staffordshire--hon. Members from both the main parties--to discuss education funding there, which is utterly disgraceful. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) wanted to speak in the debate and I know that I speak for him in making that point.

The hon. Member for Bolsover made an inimitable speech. Again, he showed hon. Members how to do it because in eight minutes he made some extremely pithy points. In boasting of his acumen as a trade union negotiator, he perhaps boasted too much in the case of Derbyshire, but certainly not too much in the case of people suffering from emphysema and white finger. We are all glad about that settlement and it is important that the people concerned should be paid as quickly as possible because they have suffered enormously.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) obviously has an extremely versatile spaniel. He made some good points about the road haulage industry and play groups. He ended on a more serious topic. There is widespread concern in the House about events in Northern Ireland. Many of us find it difficult to see terrorists who have clearly been guilty of the most despicable crimes being freed. My right hon. Friend went considerably further than I would go in his remarks. We must all hope that this Easter does indeed see the furthering of the peace process that was embarked upon on Good Friday last year.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones) made a classic Adjournment debate speech when she talked about trees in town streets. My constituency is adjacent to hers and I know that she speaks with knowledge and authority and I support all that she said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made another powerful plea for the Royal hospital, Haslar. If we wanted an object lesson in how to put forward a case, we have only to take advice from my hon. Friend. I hope that all the peaceful demonstrations with which he has been involved will result in the only just answer, which is the preservation of that extremely important hospital.

The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey) talked about the gateway to services in the light of the White Paper that was published yesterday. The hon. Member for North Cornwall discussed the Food Standards Agency and made a good point about the so-called poll tax on food. I sincerely hope that the Government will take that argument on board. I also hope that we will not see more of the ludicrous interfering, which resulted in terrible problems for the Duckett and Aldridge cream cheese producers. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight those problems.

We ended with the speech from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) who made a powerful plea for some regeneration in his part of the Yorkshire coalfield.

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He was magnanimous enough to say that he fully recognised the fact that other areas have similar problems. We have lost our coal mines in Staffordshire and although I would not wish to enter into a competition with him, I will merely say that I am aware of the importance of his arguments, which the Government need to tackle, perhaps, more satisfactorily they have been doing.

We have had a useful debate, in which a number of important issues have been raised. Obviously, I cannot deal with every last one. In the remaining minutes I shall mention a couple more. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, in his wide-ranging speech, mentioned graffiti--a problem that, literally, defaces many of our constituencies. I hope that we will have an onslaught on that appalling menace in the next year. Let us have a clean country to enter the millennium.

A number of hon. Members mentioned this House. One reason why so many Members wished to take part in the debate and why there is such frustration in the House is that the Chamber is becoming increasingly sidelined. Although it would be wrong for me to anticipate the report of the Modernisation Committee on the Main Committee--we must look at that, read it carefully and debate it thoroughly--as I have said before from the Dispatch Box, anything that detracts from the centrality of this Chamber should be resisted and anything that can put life back into it and will make Ministers more accountable and bring them here more often to be held to account must be supported.

I am delighted to see that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, is to reply to the debate again. Please will he tell his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--who we accept has many important issues on his mind at the moment--that we would appreciate seeing the right hon. Gentleman a little more often in and around the House of Commons. He has appeared in the Division Lobby far less than any Prime Minister in recorded history and we want to see a little more of him because, after all, he is our Prime Minister.

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