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In his initial comments, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) spoke of the changes to our procedures that are taking place in the House, which deny hon. Members the opportunity properly to debate, question and scrutinise the proceedings of the House. As shadow Leader of the House, I have made known my own concerns about that. My hon. Friend went on to speak of foot and mouth, the disposal of carcases into landfill and his frustration at not being able to use normal procedures in the House, and the frustration outside at the failure to get answers to a problem there.
Unfortunately, we were not able to hear contributions from all those who wished to speak, which is a mark of the interest of hon. Members in such debates. If, by chance, there is to be a general election on 7 June, there are still matters related to foot and mouth and other subjects in their constituencies that hon. Members will want to discuss in the few weeks remaining after the House returns on 23 April. On behalf of the official Opposition, I make a request through Madam Deputy Speaker for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box to respond, and for bids from hon. Members for Adjournment debates to be favourably received during those few weeks. I know that many hon. Members would not want to go from this place into an election without receiving answers to serious issues such as those that have been raised in all parts of the House today.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): We had 21 speakers from the Back Benches and I, too, am disappointed that not every hon. Member who wished to speak in the debate had the opportunity to do so. A large number of points have been made and it will not be possible for me to deal with them all this evening, but I give an undertaking that I will draw them to the attention of Ministers and try to get written responses to the many questions that have been asked.
It has been speculated that this might be the last Adjournment debate before the general election. I know nothing of that and nothing of timetables, but we had the opportunity to hear what may be a last speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Mr. Grocott), from the right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) who, because of other commitments, has limited opportunities to make presentations to the House, and from the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). Whatever happens, I wish them all well.
A number of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members raised individual cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) spoke of the Perrett case; my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) raised the case of Mr. Rahman; and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) raised two constituency cases. I know that my hon. Friends are all outstanding campaigners who will pursue these matters with vigour. Whatever I can do in a personal capacity to assist them, I will do. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, I believe that one of the things that we could best do in the NHS is to encourage professionals and hospital trusts to convene a meeting quickly when matters go wrong and to make an early apology. A great deal would be resolved if the professionals took that suggestion seriously. I heard what he said about involving more lay members in those procedures; again, I think that he is right.
The right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke about an issue that he has pursued for many years. He said that it was unfinished business, and I hope that we can move towards resolving it, although I point out again that arbitration and mediation would be more appropriate than legal processes. He mentioned the compensation fund, and I hope that it will be possible to
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) again raised the issue of Biwater. He is, as ever, a doughty campaigner on the matter, but he is also keen to try to improve the environment in north-east Derbyshire. He asked for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, in conjunction with others, to take measures to deal with the matters to which he referred. I think that he made a strong case, and I will do what is possible to help him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) spoke movingly on a subject that is close to my heart. Indeed, it is also close to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who sits on the Whips Bench. A great deal more needs to be done to help former miners. After all, these men gave their health and, in some cases, their lives, to keep us warm. The Government are currently paying out £1 million a day in compensation, and I believe that we will eventually pay out about £4 billion. We are dealing with the largest civil case in history, and it will take three to four years to settle it, but I promise my hon. Friends the Members for Jarrow and for Islwyn that we will leave no stone unturned in trying to speed up the process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who often takes pole position in such debates, raised the issue of Cyprus, on which he is a doughty campaigner. The Government are committed to working with the United Nations to try to resolve the problems, despite all the difficulties.
My hon. Friends the Members for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) referred to the earthquake in India, which was a tragic event. Like them, I wish to join the voluntary groups and faith groups that are working hard both in this country and in India in trying to bring some humanity into what can be described only as an appalling situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green asked for all the Government's efforts to be made to resolve the problem. I give him an undertaking that we will look again to see what more might be done.
A number of planning issues were mentioned. I am keen to address them, as I share hon. Members' concerns. Housing and the erosion of the green belt are a major issue. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) recognised, the Government have made proposals to build more on brownfield land than on greenfield land. We propose that 60 per cent. of building should occur on brownfield sites. In my area in the east midlands, two out of every three new houses will be built on brownfield sites. That contrasts with the record of the previous Government, under whom one out of every three houses was built on brownfield land. We must do more to work on brownfield sites and to adopt a sequential approach. As he rightly said, the reclaimed land in his area should be developed first, before there is erosion into greenfield land and into the green belt. That is the Government's intention.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned telecommunications masts, on which he was supported by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). I remind both hon. Gentlemen that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning gave an indication only last month of the new regulations that the Government intend to introduce. It is important that masts of under 15 m in height are part of the planning regime. It also important that we adopt a precautionary approach and that more money is spent on research. After the work of the Stewart committee, an extra £7 million has been spent on research. I acknowledge that there are difficulties in this area. We all want the benefits of telecommunications, but the downside is sometimes difficult to anticipate and perhaps we should have a more strategic approach to the matter.
The hon. Member for Winchester also mentioned the vexed issue of enforcement powers for local councils. I think that he has a point. There is a real problem when villains play the planning system, and I hope that we can do more. The hon. Gentleman also talked about compulsory purchase and said that not a lot had been done. There has been a major consultation exercise and a working party, and the Government have asked the Law Commission to consider the issue with the aim of bringing forward legislation as soon as possible.
Not surprisingly, many hon. Members referred to the foot and mouth outbreak. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) spoke movingly about the real problems in Oxfordshire. He clearly knows the problems, and I hope that, in areas such as his where there has been one outbreak and where the infection now seems to be under control, we shall be able to lift the restrictions. The hon. Gentleman or one of his hon. Friends said that it is easy to impose restrictions but that it is often more difficult to lift them, and we now need to try to move forward.
I was delighted with the comments made by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) about foot and mouth being an urban and a rural problem. He is right. The issue affects small and big businesses, and those who try to divide town and country communities on the issue are being short-sighted
The hon Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) rightly said that import control was a major issue, and I agree. There are strict laws and regulations and severe fines, but we must ensure that we have the resources to implement them. We need more Customs and Excise officers. We are acting on that, but the hon. Gentleman is right to ask us to do more.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is no longer with us; he has gone to have fun and frolics with his wife. He entertained us before that, but I shall save time for his comments later.
The hon. Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) made slightly different points, but let me chastise them. The Conservative party has called for landfill to be used for the disposal of carcases. Their party wants a quick solution to the problem and believes that landfill should be used. The Environment Agency and others have been consulted. It may well be the case that some sites, as the hon. Member for Gosport clearly recognises, have been approved but will not be used, but it will be important that all of us, from whatever part of the country, play our part in sorting out the problem. The hon. Member for Teignbridge asked for his letter, but the Minister is in Sweden. I promise him a reply soon.
Several hon. Members have talked about achievement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) talked about unemployment falling and the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent talked movingly about the importance of commending young people. Let me commend him on his work with the UK Youth Parliament. We should commend success, not criticise failure quite so much.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) talked about the East Ravendale school, and we await some success there. Outside toilets are disappearing all over the country, as are mobile classrooms. I am pleased that the Minister for School Standards has now joined us because she is to make a major speech during the Easter recess on further capital investment in our schools. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes well.
The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet talked about the need for extra investment in the NHS and the police, and he fairly recognised that it was beginning to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Telford talked about what has happened in his community under Labour, and I was struck with the 50th anniversary of the NHS in Lichfield.