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Mr. Drew: Stroud?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sorry. By Jove, what a wonderful constituency that would be. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), which is in my native county of Lincolnshire, talked eloquently about the police, but also about the problems faced by two of his constituents, whose anonymity he rightly preserved, and who were deprived of a life-enhancing drug, beta interferon. My right hon. and learned Friend deserves a full answer to his questions.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) also talked about the police. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst)--now a regular in these debates--talked about the plight of the small slaughterhouse, highlighting the iniquity of the double inspection and the enormous economic burden that it places on vital local services. The hon. Gentleman rightly indicated the real problems caused, not least to animals, by the closure of small slaughterhouses.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) talked about rural sub-post offices. He spoke most eloquently, and I could have thought that he was describing my own rural sub-post office in the village of Enville. It is a centre of community life, and it has been run by the Smith family for three generations. The latest generation took it over just over a year ago. The family provides a valuable social service as well as an excellent post office. All over the country, people such as the Smiths serve rural communities, but their future is in jeopardy. The hon. Gentleman performed a real service to them all by using their situation for his speech.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about what is being done in many villages to celebrate the millennium--God willing, I shall be in Enville on new year's eve--where

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there shall be proper celebrations, often accompanied by church services to mark not the end of the 20th century, which will not come for another year, but the passage of the 1900s. I was pleased, too, to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South highlight the significance of the millennium, and he paid a much-deserved tribute to Sir Cliff Richard, who has been vilely castigated in recent days.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) made a brief personal statement about the way in which he had been maligned by a newspaper that many of us hold in high repute. He was right to do that. Members on both sides of the House nodded in sympathy as he described what must have been a pretty rotten ordeal. He has the sympathy of all Members of the House. He also talked about the planning system. Confidence in that system is essential for a true balance in our rural and urban communities. He correctly pointed out that that confidence was at risk.

The hon. Member for Stroud, who echoed the concerns of other hon. Members about the police and sub-post offices, also talked about education and health. I find fellow feeling with him. Members representing Staffordshire constituencies believe that the county has been badly affected by the application of the funding formula. The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the problems of health funding in areas to which people retire. When people retire, they are at the peak of fitness, but they spend their retirement years, which are also their declining years, in areas that are not necessarily funded to cope with that. He was right to highlight that point.

We ended on another health note with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). He must deserve an accolade as one of the most conscientiously consistent of campaigning Members in the House. He has fought for his hospital with great courtesy, but complete tenacity. I wish him well and hope that the Government will respond.

I now conclude my remarks because I promised that, as we had a few minutes extra for the winding-up speeches, I would, in true Christmas spirit, share them with the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office. The debate has been extremely worth while. I wish you, Madam Speaker, all Members in the Chamber and all those who serve us in the House--all members of the staff--a very happy, joyful, tranquil Christmas and a peaceful and, if possible, a prosperous new year.

9.47 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): This has been a wide-ranging, interesting and informative debate. I am delighted that 15 Back-Bench Members have had the opportunity to pursue issues relating to individual constituents and to constituency matters. That is the purpose of such debates. However, we have also heard about wider issues--foreign affairs and the need to examine nuclear plant and nuclear weapon decommissioning in the former Soviet Union, especially in Russia. Several hon. Members have made important speeches--others supported them--on the countryside, health and the police. I have been asked to pass several messages to my ministerial colleagues. I have got the messages--I will ensure that they are passed on and that everyone who has spoken in the debate receives a reply.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox)--a veteran of these occasions--was first off the grid. He was well supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis). They rightly told us of the challenges and opportunities in the long campaign to resolve the problems in Cyprus. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting told us of the slow and difficult discussions that were beginning in New York. The discussions that took place in Helsinki at the weekend, on which the Prime Minister reported to the House today, showed that, after 25 years of struggle, there are possibilities for progress, if there is good will on both sides.

Several hon. Members, led by the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), made important speeches on the need for resources for the police. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman in two respects. First, he acknowledged that police forces throughout the country had received extra money. Secondly, he spelt out a range of possibilities, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to increase recruitment and improve retention. The hon. Gentleman spoke about difficulties in his constituency where, as I understood it, police officers were being moved from one part of the area to another.

One of the important initiatives that the Government have taken is to ensure that, each year, district commanders lay down a local policing plan, which is consulted upon. I believe that there will be increasing opportunities for people to have a say in how the police are used in their area. It is also important to get best value from the police. We look at failure in the public services too much and do not reward success enough. There is much to do on that.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) spoke about problems with the Lincolnshire police. I would simply say to him that the Lincolnshire police have a lot to do. They have a new chief constable. I believe that they have put a difficult period behind them. I am with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in wanting to do better for people who live in Lincolnshire.

It seems to me that there is a need to review how we allocate resources to the police force. Several hon. Members spoke about a new study that has been undertaken at the Government's behest. I cannot promise immediate action on it, but I remind colleagues that the Government gave a commitment that they would consider the formula for allocation not just to the police, but across local authorities, in a three-year review. We have just announced the results of the second year review, and there is much to be argued about.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham also spoke about the problems facing sufferers of MS. I know Professor B, whom he spoke about--a leading international expert on the matter--and I know his views and have some sympathy with them. That is why the Government have set up the National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness. The issue of MS and beta interferon is one of the first subject areas to be considered. Announcements will be made about that in the spring and summer. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that it is wrong that people in different parts of the country have different access to different services. I hope that NICE will enable us to move forward and meet his constituents' real needs, as he outlined in such a moving way.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones) also spoke about a health issue in a sense--a derelict health issue. Her arguments about local consultation on planning are extremely important. It must be right to change blighted properties--blighted areas. What she described as a village in the community is the right way forward. That chimes with the Government's thinking through Lord Rogers's task force. I will of course ensure that she receives an early reply to her letter.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has pursued the issue of Haslar hospital with vigour, in a robust campaign. He knows that careful thought has been given to that decision, and that it has been taken reluctantly. He knows of the volume of work and the patient mix at Haslar hospital, and he knows that the facility at Haslar will not close until new arrangements are in place at the Queen Alexandra hospital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), who could not be with us for these winding-up speeches, spoke strongly for his constituent, Andrea Morgan. I do not want to prejudge the issue, but it seems to me that local authorities and all employers should treat such issues with sense and sensitivity. I felt that that might not have happened in this case. I remind the London borough of Hillingdon that it is subject to employment law and I undertake that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions will consider the case closely to see whether we can reach a proper outcome.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) spoke strongly on the important matter of the need for a post office network across the country and, especially, in rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred to opportunities as well as challenges and I think that the horizon scheme offers opportunities. The move to e-commerce and to new technology will also offer opportunities, but there is a real threat to post offices and we should not deny that. I offer the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome the undertaking that having a network of post offices across the country is a Government priority. We have asked the performance and innovation unit to consider closely how we can secure the future of sub-post offices. There are imaginative ways forward, but we have talked about how pubs and schools in rural areas have closed. Therefore, there is much more to be done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) also discussed countryside issues. He pressed the case for the road in his constituency and I shall ensure that the Highways Agency and the relevant Minister are made aware of the points that he made. He also spoke strongly in support of small abattoirs and about the need for them on animal welfare grounds. He stressed the need to maintain the industry in rural areas, and the Government have done a fair amount to help small abattoirs. There has been a review of red tape and regulation, we have deferred the Meat Hygiene Service charges on specified risk materials and, importantly, we have fixed charges in abattoirs for next year at this year's prices--that will save the industry £7 million.

Housing in the countryside raises other issues. The Crow report is before Ministers and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) spoke properly and wisely about

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the need to consult people and to take communities with us. I shall ensure that his views on the need to visit are considered. I also acknowledge the personal statement that he made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud talked about a range of countryside issues and about the need for extra resources, particularly in his area. I remind him and other Members that the latest local government settlement is the best one since the council tax began. However, there is much more to be done.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) spoke about a millennium boom and the problems of nuclear plants and weapons in Russia. He made good points and I was particularly struck by the need for scientists in the former Soviet Union, the United States and western Europe to work together so that they are not isolated.

I inform the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) that I have had my spies at the Palace theatre and I know that "A Christmas Carol" is worth seeing. I also know that the announcement on objective 2 funding that will come soon will be worth waiting for. I cannot promise the House a decision before Christmas, but it will not be long coming.

There was pantomime season from the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)--a giant killer if ever I saw one. I also endorse the points that the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) made about Cliff Richard and his millennium message.

We go into a new millennium and a future that I hope will be better for our families, our children and our communities. I wish you, Madam Speaker, the staff of the House and all my colleagues a merry Christmas. In particular, I tell my friends in the Whips Office that both sides of the House look forward to a peaceful new year. I hope that they, in the spirit of Christmas, will grant us that.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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