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6.13 pm

Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): I shall be as brief as I can, but that is not to lessen the importance of the issue that I raise, which is the murder of my constituent, Mr. Shiblu Rahman, who was stabbed many times in east London in the early hours of 1 April 2001. He leaves a widow and two young daughters. The Metropolitan police are treating the murder as a racist attack.

I wish to commend all those people, especially on the Lincoln estate, who have assisted the police with their inquiries, representing the whole community of east London. I wish also to express appreciation to the authorities for their sensitivity in handling the family's needs. Visas were provided for family members from Bangladesh. The local authority, the London borough of Tower Hamlets, considered the rehousing needs of the widow and her children. Support was also given by other authorities.

I wish to register on behalf of the family a number of concerns. I have already written to Chief Superintendent Rose Fitzpatrick--no relation--who is commander of the Metropolitan police in Tower Hamlets, who have good communications with the family. Indeed, the local commander, Mr. Smith, met the family yesterday and a liaison officer was appointed very early on. I have also written to the chief executive of the London ambulance service, who has responded by fax today, advising me that he will respond to the issues that I have raised with him, hopefully tomorrow.

The family have many concerns. Some have been addressed by the Metropolitan police, but others require answers. The meeting between the Metropolitan police and the family yesterday has resulted in the Met promising a full response within three weeks to a number of the issues raised, such as why no family members were allowed into the flat that Mr. Rahman managed to reach before he was transported to hospital, to assist in translating and taking evidence, and the fact that Mr. Rahman was not taken to hospital by the police or family members before the ambulance arrived.

The family's other main concerns include the time that the ambulance took to arrive, which was estimated at between 31 minutes and an hour, depending on different accounts; that no family member was allowed to travel with Mr. Rahman in the ambulance to the Royal London hospital; and, of course--finally and most importantly--whether earlier arrival at the hospital might have saved Mr. Rahman's life. They are reasonable, but angry questions from a very distressed and close family.

As I said earlier, Mr. Rahman, who was only 34, leaves a widow and two very young children. Those responsible need to be caught and prosecuted, and justice, as ever, not only needs to be done, but be seen to be done. The questions that I have asked must be answered. Clearly, from the evidence that I have received, the police have learned lessons from the Macpherson inquiry, but there are still issues to be addressed, and the London ambulance service has to address the serious questions that it has been asked.

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I know that the House will condemn the murder of my constituent, Mr. Shiblu Rahman--a decent, ordinary, working member of our community. We certainly collectively condemn racism and expect the best and most sensitive treatment of his dependants.

I raise this matter to express my condolences to the family, to reassure them that their concerns will be addressed, to put down a marker that the serious questions that they have asked must be answered to their satisfaction and to give notice that I will naturally seek a full Adjournment debate at the appropriate time further and fully to examine the serious issues that have been raised by this heinous crime and to ensure that the safety of all my constituents is foremost in Poplar and Canning Town.

6.16 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): There is increasing frustration and anger among perceptive commentators about the manner in which the Government are treating Parliament, and the situation this afternoon is indicative of that. First, the Prime Minister defers the local elections theoretically to concentrate on foot and mouth disease, and then the Government announce an extremely long Adjournment at Easter in a week when five separate programme motions--or guillotines--have been tabled for five separate measures. The truth is that the Government do not really think that Parliament has a role in a crisis.

I was talking to a Cabinet Minister in a corridor last week. I congratulated him on the fact that he had been in the Chamber briefly when one of his junior Ministers was taking some business through the House and said that it was a pity that Cabinet Ministers could not spend more time in the Chamber, to which the Cabinet Minister replied, "I can't sit in there; we've got a country to run." How different from what happened under the Government formed by Mrs. Thatcher--as she then was--when the Falkland islands were invaded and it was decided that Parliament should sit on a Saturday to debate the issue.

This Government's attitude seems to be that if hon. Members sit back and allow the Government to get on with their business, they will run the country and get it right. I want to raise an issue that the Government have not got right. If the Government were to listen to Parliament and if Parliament were available for the next week or so, it would provide a better opportunity for hon. Members to debate the issue.

I heard with disbelief yesterday that it was intended to bury the carcases of slaughtered animals at Romsey in Hampshire. Hampshire is not affected by foot and mouth disease, and the last thing that local people want is their county to be infected with it. Clearly, if carcases are to be brought into the county and buried at Romsey, there must be such a risk, however detailed the arrangements to stop the infection spreading.

Immediately on arriving at the House, I went to the Table Office and asked to table a question for priority answer. I was told that, as the House was rising today, the earliest date on which my priority question could be answered was 23 April. So I have to wait all that time to find out whether animals are to be buried in Hampshire. I then went to my office and discovered that the Minister for the Environment had written a letter to the chief

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executives of the local authorities on Wednesday 4 April, but that it was not sent to hon. Members until 6 April--a Friday, which all my hon. Friends know is the day on which Ministers publish answers that they do not really want people to read. Although the information was available on 4 April that the Environment Agency intended Squad wood, Salisbury road, Romsey to be an approved licensed landfill site to be used for burying carcases, Members were not told until the Friday of that week, and received the letter on the following Monday.

There have been developments. Hampshire county council has of course taken the matter up with the Environment Agency. The company in question has objected to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and been given a verbal assurance that the Romsey site will probably not be used. The Environment Agency says that it is "highly unlikely" that it will be used, at least in the short term. If it is used at all, it will be for local animals and every carcase will come in an individual body bag, disinfected and with all precautions taken.

There has been a huge number of calls from people in Hampshire expressing absolute disbelief that Romsey is to be used for the burial of carcases. It is appalling that the county council, despite having done all it can, has no influence to stop that. If the Government say, by diktat, that the site is to be used, it will be used. On behalf of the people of Hampshire, I ask for the same assurance that was given to the people of West Sussex, where county council leaders have been told that the disposal of carcases in landfill sites in the county will cease immediately and that there will be no further disposal without consultation.

Will the Government give an assurance, through the Parliamentary Secretary, that the notice from the Minister for the Environment will be withdrawn, and that there will be no further imposition of carcases on landfill sites in Hampshire until there has been further discussion?

6.21 pm

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise the issue of coal health compensation on behalf of the retired miners in my constituency and elsewhere. My constituency had a great tradition of coal mining, as did the north-east as a whole, before the previous Government got their hands on it and destroyed what had been a great industry.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe on the determination that he has shown. He has demonstrated that he will succeed in getting compensation for the miners. I praise the Government for their attitude to the matter. They are responding to the miners' claim for justice, which the Tory Government and British Coal resisted for years. In January 1996, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) asked the Tory Minister to introduce a miners' compensation scheme, only to be told that their health problems were due mainly to smoking.

As we know, this compensation claim is the biggest in British history, with more than 142,000 claimants. I was proud when the Labour Government accepted it without question and made billions of pounds available to the miners who had done so much service for British industry. By taking the workers' side for once, a Government have

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turned industrial relations around. We remember how the previous Government treated the miners, and the miners will never forget it.

In my constituency, 499 miners with respiratory diseases have made claims. Sadly, 13 of them died before they could receive their entitlement, and only 87 have received full settlements up to now. That is a success rate of less than 20 per cent., which is unacceptable. We are talking not about statistics but about real people who want their entitlement to make life easier for themselves and their families.

I have contact with almost 100 of those miners when I meet them in my surgery or at the local shops. When they talk to me in that wheezing tone, it breaks my heart to see how the health of men who were once big, strong and fit has been affected to such an extent that normal life is impossible for them. That is why I support the campaign instigated by my local newspaper, the South Shields Gazette, and its editor, Rob Lawson, to get an additional testing centre based in south Tyneside.

In discussions with Ministers and their officials earlier today, I discovered that there are a total of 10,290 live claimants in the north-east. Almost 80 per cent. have had the appropriate tests at the centres in Newcastle and Durham. The Government have provided a domiciliary service to test housebound miners in their homes. We can therefore conclude that the vast majority of miners have passed through the first gateway. However, a testing centre in south Tyneside would be convenient for the small number who are left and their families.

The campaign has the support of my predecessor, my noble Friend Lord Dixon of Jarrow, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). We have already met my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe and we were delighted with his response. He said that resources were not a problem in ensuring that miners received what they were entitled to. There were no budgetary constraints and money was not an issue, so the possibility of establishing an additional testing centre would be investigated.

However, the real problems with the scheme are the legal complexities and the lack of respiratory specialists. Legal problems are holding up the claims and, after a lifetime in the pits, that is not what miners want to hear. With their lives destroyed, they have to wait for payments while lawyers argue. Each time the Government try to speed up or improve the process, both sets of lawyers must agree. Hundreds of millions of pounds must be going in fees to lawyers while more miners die every day.

Is it not nonsense that miners who have already been diagnosed with bronchitis and emphysema have to go through another medical to satisfy the lawyers? Those miners have already been diagnosed and been awarded the industrial injuries benefit, but they have to wait in a queue. We all know that that is part of a court judgment, but the dying men in my constituency do not want to listen to court judgments. Why cannot the lawyers accept existing medical records, as they do for deceased claimants?

The shortage of respiratory specialists is another major problem that is delaying full settlements. I applaud the actions of my hon. Friend the Minister in ensuring that the oldest and most ill are given priority. I know that the younger and fitter miners in my constituency who find that their appointments have been rescheduled will agree

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that the older men who cannot breathe should go first. I would also like to appeal to specialists--whether they are retired, working in the private sector or in the NHS--to come forward to give extra of their time to a great cause.

The Government's efforts are there to be seen. They have tried to recruit more specialists, given priority to the sickest and oldest miners, given widows special priority payments, offered domiciliary procedure for the housebound and IRISC, the Government's insurer, is employing 340 people to deal with the cases. That means that more than 1,000 people are being processed each week. In the north-east, more than £77 million has been paid out and, over the next six months, an acceleration in the process means that an additional £68 million will be paid out.

The Tories will never be forgiven for destroying a great industry and we should never forget the debt that we owe to the miners and to the widows who nursed them at home when they were sick. They deserve justice and the Labour Government are determined that they will receive it.

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