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Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to the Minister for referring to that matter, if disappointed by his remarks. What experience has the Chinook fleet had since the accident with the full authority digital engine control system? What other inadvertent manoeuvres has the fleet been involved in since then?
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) asked about the role of the Ministry of Defence police in Kosovo. There are 56 members of the MOD police in the international police in Kosovo, as well as a number who are working in the criminal intelligence unit and the Kosovo police school. However, the quality of their contribution is also significant. For example, two of them are working on an international team that is assessing police from other countries. They are making a significant contribution to policing with the quality of their work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins) rightly drew attention to cuts in the army under "Options for Change". I was pleased that he drew attention to the improvements that have taken place in wages and conditions. He, along with a number of hon. Members--
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): I wish to present a petition signed by the staff and pupils of Repton school in my constituency. It declares that Her Majesty's Government have ratified the convention on the rights of the child, are therefore committed to children's rights and therefore have a responsibility to do all that they can to help end the exploitation of child labourers in overseas countries.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for International Development that all aid to countries such as Indonesia, India, Mali or Pakistan, where child labour is known to be an extensive problem, should have a reasonable percentage of it linked to a programme of education for the child labourers.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I have the honour to present this petition to the House of Commons. It has arisen because the Merseyside fire authority has indicated that it intends to change the staffing arrangements at Formby fire station from continuous staffing arrangements at night to part-time staffing.
This petition declares, therefore, that we are totally opposed to the proposed change in the night-time staffing arrangements put forward by the Merseyside fire authority with regard to the Formby fire station. We believe that any change to the existing staffing arrangements at Formby fire station could jeopardise life and property.
The petitioners--some 4,000--therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Home Secretary to reject the application from Merseyside fire authority to change the existing night-time staffing arrangements at Formby fire station.
It is a privilege to be able to speak in this Adjournment debate on behalf of my constituents at Chesters Croft in Cheadle Hulme. The Minister has kindly written to me, and spoken to me, to advise me that this matter has, thank goodness, been resolved. I am sure that he will make it clear how it has been resolved when he replies. However, it is right that I put the thanks of my constituents on the record.
The Minister will be aware that my constituents at Chesters Croft live in homes that are classified as mobile, but are permanent in every sense. There is not a wheel in sight, they have brick bases, nice extensions and nice gardens. However, they live adjacent to the central section of the Manchester airport eastern link road, now open and running. Because they are classified as mobile homes, they were denied the right that exists for all residents in homes classified as permanent--that of claiming compensation for the noise pollution and air pollution resulting from the road being built.
The promise that those regulations would be introduced was made at the public inquiry into the Manchester airport eastern link road in 1991. I have lost count of the number of times that I have raised this issue in letters and telephone calls, and even on the Floor of the House. However, I am happy that I will not have to do so any more, and I know that the people in Chesters Croft will be delighted that justice has been done.
I am especially grateful for the kindness shown by the Minister in dealing with the matter. I do not know what has spurred things on so suddenly, but whatever it was, I thank the Government, on behalf of my constituents. I do not want to make any party political points, as no Minister of any Government was directly responsible for the delays, but my constituents had to wait a very long time for the matter to be resolved. Consultation takes time--but nine years is stretching matters somewhat. However, we got there eventually, and I am very grateful to the Minister.
My constituents have asked me to raise two practical points, but I accept that the Minister may not be able to answer them tonight and assure him that a response in writing would be equally acceptable. First, the local authority in Stockport mentioned to some Chesters Croft residents that the regulations arrived at after consultation might take the form of limiting the available compensation to £1,500. Can the Minister confirm that, and did the proposal emerge from the consultation exercise? If he cannot give me the details now, I should be grateful if he would notify me of them later, so that I can explain the matter to my constituents. If that is the case, they will want to know why.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): May I begin, Mr. Speaker, by joining in the many accolades extended to you on your election? I also congratulate the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on securing an Adjournment debate on an issue that I know is dear to his heart, and of great importance to his constituents at Chesters Croft, Cheadle Hulme. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, which are typical of the decency and amiability for which he is so highly regarded in the House.
I am tempted to say, "Thank you, rejoice," and sit down straight away, but the cries for more from all the hon. Members in this full Chamber encourage me to say a few words about this extraordinary story. The hon. Member for Cheadle and his constituents deserve some explanation--and apology--for the very long wait imposed on them.
I confirm at the outset that I well understand, and sympathise with, the frustration and concern repeatedly expressed by the hon. Members for Cheadle and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Sawford), on behalf of their constituents, about the unacceptably long delay in bringing the regulations into force.
I confess that I have not had the opportunity to discover whether a gap in excess of nine years between the commencement of enabling legislation and the subsequent introduction of regulations is an all-time record. If it is not, it cannot be far short. In any event, it is certainly not something that I or my ministerial colleagues condone or regard as acceptable.
As the House well knows, this Government are fully committed, through their agenda for modernising the civil service, to rooting out inefficiency whatever its cause, and to ensuring the highest possible standards of service. I am sorry that we have fallen substantially short of that ideal in this particular case, and I ask the hon. Member for Cheadle to convey to his constituents my personal apologies, and my gratitude for their exceptional patience.
Paragraph 70 of schedule 15 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 was enacted by the previous Administration, and gave the then Secretary of State for Transport powers to introduce regulations enabling compensation to be paid in respect of caravans and other mobile dwellings affected by noise caused by public works. The need for special regulations arises because owners of mobile homes or houseboats do not normally have a qualifying interest in the land on which or over which their home is situated.
Without that they are unable first to serve a statutory blight notice requiring the authority responsible to acquire their home, secondly, to ask for their home to be acquired under the discretionary purchase powers introduced by the 1991 Act, and thirdly, to claim compensation under the provisions of part I of the Land Compensation Act 1973. Statutory noise insulation measures such as secondary glazing are inappropriate for mobile homes as they would be impractical and ineffective.
Following commencement of the 1991 Act, the then Minister for Roads and Traffic charged officials in his Department with preparing the intended new regulations for his approval. This reflected the fact that the major source of nuisance to mobile homes arises from the construction and/or use of new or altered highways. Regulations were drafted as early as 1992, but placed in abeyance during more pressing work on preparing and introducing guidelines to implement the discretionary purchase powers that I mentioned earlier.
I know from my briefing for the debate that the hon. Member for Cheadle has pleaded his constituents' case both in writing and in person with the Minister then responsible for roads on several occasions. In June 1996, that Minister gave an assurance that he had asked the Highways Agency, the executive agency responsible for trunk roads, to press on with drafting regulations for his approval and for consultation with local authority associations and other interested parties.
That work appears to have progressed at a disappointingly slow rate--so much so that the hon. Gentleman again found it necessary to make representations, this time to my noble Friend Baroness Hayman, who, in autumn 1997, commissioned the Highways Agency to undertake a public consultation exercise on the draft regulations, which by this time it had prepared.
That exercise, conducted during 1998, took longer than expected and it was not until June 1999 that the agency reported its findings to my noble Friend Lord Whitty and sought his approval to work up a final version of the regulations for his approval. It subsequently took a lot of work on the part of both officials and lawyers to get the regulations to the point at which they were fit to receive ministerial approval, and to iron out the expenditure implications, especially those for local highway authorities, which, along with the Highways Agency, will be required to implement them.
I fear that this has not been a happy tale, but I am delighted to be able to report that it is one that ends on a positive note. I am very pleased to be able to inform the House and the hon. Gentleman that, following completion of final drafting, the regulations have now been signed and approved by my noble Friend Lord Whitty, as the Minister responsible.
As the hon. Member for Cheadle knows, the regulations were laid before both Houses earlier today and, subject to Parliament's approval, we expect them to be brought into force on 23 November. As I know that this is an issue of special concern to the hon. Gentleman and to his constituents at Chesters Croft, I wish to confirm that the regulations have been drafted to provide for retrospective application to 25 September 1990, as intended in the 1991 Act.
The hon. Gentleman also asked how much eligible claimants would be entitled to receive. The answer is that the regulations provide for a flat rate payment of £1,650. That amount is broadly comparable with the cost of noise insulation provided to conventional home owners. The level of payment will be kept under review, but not index linked, because other flat rate provisions in land compensation are not variable.
Nine years on, the retrospectivity that we are conferring in this case is exceptional, but we are dealing with exceptional circumstances, in which it would be indefensible to penalise those who have been waiting for so long and so patiently to make their claim.