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Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to point out that there are similar problems elsewhere. This morning, I received a most disturbing letter from a constituent who complained of rationing not by budget but by postcode. I understand that my health authority has no budget at all for beta interferon.

Mr. Hogg: I am sorry to hear that. In another letter to me, the professor pointed out that, because of budgetary constraints, perhaps only one in six of the patients who would benefit from beta interferon is receiving it.

Ultimately, the Government are responsible and I am entitled to know where they stand on the following options. The first would be to do nothing but simply say, "Well, that's tough. Too bad, we are not going to do anything." If that is the Government's position, we should know. Secondly, they could tell the Lincolnshire health authority to allocate more money to the budget. The authority would then have to move money from another

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spending head. Is that the Government's position? Thirdly, the Government could say that they will allocate more money to the health authority. If that is their position, we should know about it. If that is not their position, we should know why.

For aught I know, there are various other possibilities, but it is the Government's business to tell us what the alternatives are. I realise that the Minister is not able to comment in detail; I do not blame him for that. The Leader of the House would also be unable to comment in detail. However, the Minister could tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health that the House is entitled to a considered reply to the points that I have made. I trust that he will persuade his right hon. Friend to write to me and, furthermore, that a letter will be placed in the Library.

In relation to the funding of the Lincolnshire police, we find that rural areas are being disadvantaged under the Labour Government. There are two general points. First, the number of police in the county is lower than when the Conservatives were in office. In April 1997, we had1,214 constables in Lincolnshire. A year later, in April 1998, the number had risen by four. In April 1999, there were 1,165 constables--a decrease of 49 since 1997. I suspect that that is matched in many shire forces.

Secondly, Lincolnshire receives the second lowest grant per head of the population. In consequence, as in the situation described by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey, council tax payers in my constituency are paying about 34 per cent. more than the average rate. As all those Members who represent rural areas are well aware, the problem is sparsity. For obvious reasons, it costs much more to provide a police service in a sparsely populated region. I need not go into the reasons, as they will be well known to those who are interested in the matter.

I am not usually fair to the Government, but in this case I will be and will point out that, in April 1998, the Home Office commissioned ORH Ltd. to produce a report, which was received in May 1999. A letter sent by the Home Office to police authorities stated that the working party to whom the consultants had reported found that there was a serious sparsity factor. The consultants recommended a heavy shift in spending priorities to take account of the sparsity factor in the formula. In Lincolnshire, that would increase the cash by about £2 million, or about 3 per cent. That is a significant amount in a budget of about £60 million. That is important.

In September, I received a letter from the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), in which he stated, in effect, that there was problem but that the Government were not in a position to address it. Indeed, they could not give me any guarantee for the next three years.

Plainly, in Lincolnshire, we have too few policemen--fewer than there were two years ago. It is acknowledged that sparsity is a serious factor, but the Government completely refuse to pay any attention to the report that they commissioned and which has been endorsed by the Home Office working party. That is profoundly unsatisfactory. I realise that the Minister will not be able to give me a considered reply--even the Leader of the House would not be able to do so. I do not complain about

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that. However the Minister can certainly draw my remarks to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and suggest that a considered and sympathetic response would be in order. A copy of that letter should go to the Library of the House.

Mr. Colvin: I draw the attention of the House and of my right hon. and learned Friend to the excellent Adjournment debate initiated by our right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) on 2 December on the policing of rural areas. Our right hon. Friend listed the 14 police authorities--including Lincolnshire--which face the problem described by my right hon. and learned Friend and which have jointly lobbied the Home Office. I recommend that my right hon. and learned Friend joins forces with those authorities and perhaps he will receive a better answer from the Minister of State, Home Office than our right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon received on 2 December.

Mr. Hogg: I should put it differently--they might join forces with me. Lincolnshire is one of the counties that suffer most acutely. It is perfectly true that 14 forces are affected by the sparsity factor. They are referred to in the ORH Ltd. report and by the Home Office working party.

In respect of the police and beta interferon, we must acknowledge that those who live in rural areas are being disadvantaged by the Government. Those of us who represent those people must ensure that the whole country knows and understands that.

8.8 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): The debate gives us the opportunity to raise grievances that have not been dealt with. I demand redress for my constituent, Andrea Morgan. Some months ago, I raised her case in a debate on myalgic encephalomyelitis--ME--initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright). At that time, I believed that, after a long struggle, the case had been resolved.

However, tragically, the sorry tale of a bureaucracy pursuing a lengthy and virulent campaign of harassment against my constituent continues, because, although she suffers from ME, she has dared to stand up for her right to fair treatment from the local authority. Since the Lawrence inquiry, there has been much debate about institutional racism. Andrea Morgan's case is an example of institutional discrimination on grounds of disability. I hope that, by exposing the case again, I will halt in its tracks the campaign against her by the malevolent bureaucracy of the London borough of Hillingdon. I shall explain what can happen to people with disabilities if they dare to demand fairness and justice.

The background is that Andrea was an employee of the London borough of Hillingdon. Ironically, her post was to assist long-term unemployed people--especially those with disabilities--to return to work. After six years, she was redeployed within the council to assist members of the public with their problems--providing information, advice and assistance. She was generally considered to be good at her job--competent, committed and sensitive to the needs of the community.

In January 1997, Andrea was taken ill and eventually, in May 1997, she was admitted to hospital after collapsing, and was diagnosed as suffering from ME.

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The full details of the condition were outlined in a report by Dr. Sevitt, the Hillingdon hospital consultant. Andrea was treated by her general practitioner and was in regular contact with Dr. Thompson, health adviser to the London borough of Hillingdon.

Andrea Morgan is a worker, not a shirker. She is keen to get back to work as soon as possible, and was so at that time. So Andrea herself arranged appointments with the borough's health adviser, which produced in September 1997 from that adviser, Dr. Thompson, the following advice to the London borough of Hillingdon personnel department:

The doctor continued:

    "I would be grateful if you could let me know if this would be possible."

No response was received from Hillingdon, despite Andrea's phone calls and messages left in the personnel department, so, in November 1997, a further memo was sent by Dr. Thompson to the personnel department, saying:

    "I would reiterate my last memo of 26 September that Miss Morgan is fit to start work at home when this is possible and that this should be followed by graded return to work in line with her symptoms. It is important that, even though she remains well, the gradation of her return does not increase, and that her symptoms are monitored carefully, as too much too early could cause a recurrence of her symptoms."

There was no response from the borough, so Andrea yet again arranged for an interview. She took with her her GP's note, saying:

    "Andrea is now ready to return to work but needs a period of part-time work to ease herself back into routine. I hope that this is possible".

This is a woman struggling to get back into work, despite a severe illness, diagnosed by several doctors, including consultants at Hillingdon hospital and her own GP.

Andrea eventually did return to work, in November 1997, but what did the London borough of Hillingdon do? Was there any assistance for her? No. The borough refused to allow her access to its own recuperation programme. On the day that she returned to work, her own manager was late. There were no arrangements for prior induction. She was set up to fail. She could not cope in those circumstances, and left her employment on that day.

The occupational health adviser informed the council:

Andrea again tried to return to work. She sought redeployment. She was willing to do everything within her abilities to get back to work, and she was referred to the borough's corporate monitoring panel to match her to any vacancies that arose. Departmental managers were also asked whether they could provide some work for her to do at home. Although in other instances the borough paid other employees a full salary and found them work to do at home, that was not the case for Andrea. It seems that it is all right if one is able-bodied, but not if one has a disability.

Having done nothing to help, the borough's personnel department suggested that Andrea be psychologically tested. In a debate earlier in the year, we heard that many

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ME sufferers have endured similar treatment. The argument is that they are not sick--that the problem is not physical but psychological. It is the modern-day equivalent of "it is all in the mind" or "it is psychosomatic". It has revealed the attitude of the personnel manager to ME sufferers that they all seem to be classified as "mental malingerers".

Time dragged on. The borough made no real effort to find an appropriate job for Andrea and, in January 1998, after months of trying to get back into work, she could cope no longer and resigned her employment with the borough. In February 1998, Andrea, through her union, Unison, lodged an industrial tribunal application with regard to the borough's treatment of her, on the grounds of discrimination on disability.

In October 1998, the industrial tribunal found unanimously in Andrea's favour. It said:

The tribunal did not believe that, in an organisation of 8,000 employees, the borough could not find some work for her to assist in her return to work. It cited numerous examples of other employees who had been assisted in such a way.

What did the borough do? Immediately, in the local paper, it distorted the judgment, claiming that it would appeal because it could not create work for Andrea when there was no work for her to do--a complete distortion of the decision.

The decision should have been an end to the case, and Andrea was looking forward to putting the whole issue behind her and starting a new life, possibly in new employment--but no, bizarrely, the London borough of Hillingdon appealed. Personnel officers lodged their own industrial tribunal appeal application, using the borough's resources. Although that was subsequently denied by the chief executive, I have the paperwork on which they lodged the claims in their own personal names, on London borough of Hillingdon headed paper.

In May 1999, the appeal was dismissed. The personnel officers dropped their own case, and they were refused leave to appeal further by Lord Justice Morison.

In June 1999, the London borough of Hillingdon applied to the Court of Appeal for refusal of leave to be lifted. In November 1999--only a month ago--Mr. Justice Sedley refused leave to appeal and said:

I understand that, even now, the borough is considering further appeals and further pursuits of this case. In the past year, the borough has settled numerous employee cases at industrial tribunals, and settlements have ranged from £4,000 to £45,000, but in this case it is determined not to settle.

The costs incurred by the borough in pursuing its vendetta against my constituent--a disabled woman--are staggering. They must now amount to more than £100,000--the costs of counsel's opinion, counsel's representation in court, legal officers' advice, personnel officers' advice, occupational health advisers' advice and the administrative tasks involved in this escapade. The matter has been referred to the district auditor, but he seems incapable of investigating the matter.

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I am demanding a full investigation by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I believe that, if there have been issues of unreasonable behaviour, the district auditor should surcharge officers and, if necessary, members in this case. What we have on our hands is a grubby, hurtful conspiracy to victimise my constituent, which should not go unrecorded and must be remedied. That is what these debates are for--to draw attention to that type of disgraceful behaviour by a public body.

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