Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): As I represent part of the city of Sheffield, hon. Members may be surprised to see me speaking in a debate on the Queen's Speech that is focused on rural issues. Hon. Members who have not visited the constituency of Sheffield, Heeley may not appreciate how green it is and how many of my constituents take a keen interest in rural affairs. However, I am sure that hon. Members will know that Sheffield, like Rome, is built on seven hills and that Heeley has its fair share of them. They afford residents some of the most magnificent views of the city and of the beautiful Derbyshire borders that are at the southern boundary of my constituency.
The constituency also boasts a farm, Heeley city farm, which not only has animals, but which offers work training, education and various community enterprises, all of which are seeking to work in an environmentally friendly manner.
By the time of the 1970 election, with a father and uncle as councillors in Sheffield, I had already developed an interest in politics and took to debating the case for Labour with my school friends. A permanent reminder is my school photo of that year, in which I can be seen proudly wearing my "Hooley for Heeley" sticker. It was, however, to be an early lesson in losing; the Conservative candidate won that year, with a narrow majority of 713. Four years later, Frank Hooley was re-elected and served the people of Heeley as an excellent constituency Member until 1983.
In that year Bill Michie was elected, continuing as Member of Parliament until his retirement at this general election. I also first knew Bill when I was a child. My earliest memory is from a time when he was standing for the local council when I spent a morning with my sister making red rosettes in the campaign room. However, I cannot claim to have made the rosette which he stills wears to this day, prominently sporting an "Old Labour and proud of it" sticker.
In his maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) highlighted the physical differences between himself and his predecessor. I, too, claim differences from mine, and not just differences of gender. Robert Waller and Byron Criddle, in their "Almanac of British Politics", described Bill Michie as follows:
Since my selection as Labour candidate for Sheffield, Heeley in July last year, I have been involved in campaigns in the constituency. On many occasions, people have told me of the work that Bill Michie did for them. Organisations have spoken highly of his contribution in supporting their aims and assisting them wherever possible. I pay tribute to his 18 years as the representative for the constituency.
Not only am I the third Labour Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Heeley, I am also the third Labour Co-operative Member for a constituency in Sheffield. The first was A. V. Alexander, subsequently Lord Alexander, who represented the constituency of Sheffield, Hillsborough. He was first elected in the early 1920s and had a distinguished political career, serving in government as First Lord of Admiralty and Minister of Defence. In May 1929, he said:
I am sure that, like me, many new Members have received letters congratulating them on their victory; some from old friends or, as in my case, former bosses. One, however, was particularly unexpected. Richard Corbett, Member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber, wrote as follows:
Finally, I wish to comment briefly on the adoption and children Bill. I want to associate myself with the comments of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who urged us to scrutinise the Bill properly as it will affect the lives of many children. Over the past five years, I have had experience of, and significant responsibility for, making decisions on adoptions. The importance of these decisions cannot be underestimated; they demand considerable care and expertise. Adoption cannot be viewed merely as substituting one set of parents for another for a child who needs a new family. Adoption has lifelong implications for all three sides of the adoption triangle--the birth family, the child and the adoptive family.
I welcome proposals to speed up adoption for the many children who are currently awaiting adoptive families. Setting up a national register will help to ensure that children are matched as soon as possible with approved adoptive parents.
I particularly welcome the proposal to place a duty on local authorities to provide adoption support services. Most of the children who are adopted today have been in the care of the local authority. Their experiences will mean that they will demand more care and support than other children. A child who settles happily into a family at the age of three may experience extreme difficulties when a teenager, with which she or her family are ill prepared to cope. The continuing availability of support for those involved in adoption can be crucial if a family is to avoid further breakdown. I make a particular plea that such support is properly funded and that consideration is also given to putting funding for adoption allowances on a firmer footing.
In my work, time and again, I was amazed to see what the love and dedication of families could do for children who had experienced neglect and abuse. Adoption is so often about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn). Her predecessor, Bill Michie, was well known in the House. Everybody got on well with him, and he will be missed. He has been replaced by a lady with a toothy smile, as she told us herself, and we look forward to seeing that toothy smile for many years to come. She has already mentioned an interest of hers, and I know that she will be joined by many right hon. and hon. Members who wish to see some common sense in adoption matters. We wish her well in her campaign on that issue.
This is an important debate on the Queen's Speech, and I wish to use my time to concentrate on the effects of foot and mouth. The disease has hit Ribble Valley very hard. At the outset of the general election, the constituency saw a number of outbreaks and, sadly, they have carried on apace.
We were delighted when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs came to Gisburn yesterday. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and I were there, along with members of the farming fraternity and the tourism industry. They were able to put their concerns to the Secretary of State at first hand. They made a number of suggestions and although I thought it quite right that the right hon. Lady did not come forward with immediate answers--after all, she is still feeling her way in this new Department--she listened to what they said. They will be waiting to hear what constructive proposals she makes in the weeks immediately ahead--some people cannot wait months for new proposals.
It is sometimes said that foot and mouth affects only a small percentage of livestock. However, where foot and mouth strikes, it affects 100 per cent. of animals. At this time of the year, we are used to seeing sheep, lambs and cows in the fields. Yesterday, I was at the home of a farmer whose animals had been culled in Worston. She told me how devastating it was. People are used to seeing all the animals in the fields, but there are no animals in the fields surrounding certain villages now. It has hit the people very hard.
People also want to know that there is a future for farming. That question was raised yesterday. The hon. Member for Pendle mentioned the rumours that persist that when restocking takes place it will be at a greatly reduced level and that there is a conspiracy to reduce the
I hope that the inquiry will be full and public. We do not want it to continue for an inordinate length of time or to be inordinately costly, but we want a thorough examination that will be useful. I do not know what happened to the 1967 report, but it was not as useful as it should have been--we would not have been facing the present distress if it had been. We have to learn from 1967 and from what is happening now, so we need a public inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) has made suggestions and has laid them in the Library. I hope that the Minister will be able to consider constructively that suggestion about how the public inquiry should be undertaken.
Many people are questioning how the disease has spread into new areas. One lady asked me yesterday whether we knew if the disease could live on the beaks of birds and, if so, for how long. She suggested that birds get at the carcases or on to diseased animals and that it is spread in that way. Such questions are being asked and we need to know the answers.
Farmers have referred to the importing of meat that is not of the same quality as our meat. It has been suggested that diseased meat could have caused the outbreak. If that is the case, we need to know and we need to be reassured that positive action will be taken to prevent that from happening again.
Yesterday, farmers were talking about a level playing field. They agree to enforce all the extra hygiene rules and the regulations to ensure that we have the highest standards of meat and yet they face competition from abroad--from inferior meat from countries that do not have the same rules and regulations. That cannot be right or fair.
People want a full debate about the disease. We have not had such a debate in Government time and I hope that we will have at least one full day to discuss it before the recess. That is not too much to ask of the Government. Whenever the Government were intending to rise for the recess, they could add one more day for business. Let us debate the matter then. It would be wholly wrong to rise for the recess without a full debate in Government time so that we can all make positive contributions.
People want honesty about the disease. Farmers are angry because they believe that its importance has been downgraded and kicked to one side. The media were interested before the election, but now that that is over we cannot get their interest back. The issue has been sidelined and people are forgetting about farmers. We need to let farmers and those who have been blighted by foot and mouth know that we have not forgotten them and that we understand the pain that they feel and their situation.
The question of compensation has been raised. In some cases it has been paid late, but it has at least been paid. Farmers outside the dairy sector who have not been able to move their animals for months have suffered too, but they have received no money. I do not know what some of them would have done had they not had help from the agricultural charities. When a similar crisis breaks out again, we must look at what support can be given direct to farmers who, because of foot and mouth, can neither move nor sell their animals.
In addition, are farmers who receive compensation expected to live off that money? My fear is that the erosion caused by living expenses over, say, six months will mean that they will not have enough money to restock to the levels obtaining before foot and mouth hit. The Government have not addressed the general problem of restocking but perhaps, when the disease has been eradicated, we can start to look at the future for farming in this country.
I have heard many horror stories from farmers whose animals have been culled. In some cases, the culling has not been performed humanely. I have heard about pot shots being taken at animals in the fields. That happened in Ribble Valley in the past couple of weeks, and it cannot be right. We were told, after a similar incident in Wales, that such a thing would never happen again. It must not; people involved in the slaughter must be directed to ensure that it is done in the most humane manner possible, and that animal carcases are removed. However, I still do not understand why animals are not buried on-farm.
We must look to the long-term future, and decide what direct action can be taken to help the tourism industry. My constituency has many tourism industries that have been badly affected by the disease. The Secretary of State said that she wanted to get on top of the problem by the autumn. She has our full support, but action must be taken before the autumn comes--