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7.58 pm

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I wish to begin by paying tribute to all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I have listened with interest and some diligence to many of those speeches, and to the remarks made by other, more seasoned campaigners.

It is customary for a new hon. Member to pay tribute in his maiden speech to his predecessor. My predecessor, Mr. William Ross, was a diligent Member of this House. For many generations, his family has lived and farmed in the East Londonderry constituency. Mr. Ross has done so himself for many years.

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When I was growing up in one of the many small terraced houses in the Waterside area of Londonderry in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, I little realised that I, a product of a working-class Unionist family, would one day be elected to this, the mother of Parliaments.

Like so many of my community, my social conditions were poor, on a par with those of many in other parts of Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom. We enjoyed none of the benefits of the so-called Unionist ascendency. Outside toilets and a lack of bathroom facilities were the rule, not the exception. Our job prospects were bleak. I started work as a shop assistant in 1969. At that time, there were those who started to campaign for what they termed civil rights. Among them were Members past and present of this House. Not only did they make a number of demands but they accused my community of refusing those demands, even though we were in a similar socio-economic plight.

Some ask why we did not join in the campaign to have those demands met. Those who say that do not understand that, from the outset, the campaign was a republican one. It had slogans such as, "Smash the Orange state." The campaign quickly turned violent. Those Members of Parliament who supported it have their own consciences to search for the part that they played in encouraging protest, violence and subsequently murder. They condemned it, but they pocketed the political gains that the violence brought for their community.

The problem in recent years has been that attempts to establish a political system in Northern Ireland have as their genesis the wrong foundation. If Her Majesty's Government continually begin from the starting point that nationalists are always the aggrieved party, they will always get it wrong. That is what is wrong with the present Belfast agreement.

Decommissioning of illegal arms is essential, and it must be begun and completed. Proper accountable democracy in the Assembly must be established. There has to be a Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland liaison with which Unionists as well as nationalists are comfortable. I do not see how any of that is possible within the present framework, but the fundamentals of the approach to solving the problem must be right.

My community is angry, disillusioned, discriminated against and marginalised, not only since the Belfast agreement but for decades before. The 1998 agreement only made matters worse. I am here to work for the revitalisation of that community. In most strata of society in Northern Ireland, Unionists feel that their cultural outlook has been ignored. The Northern Ireland of today is a place where Unionists feel their second-class citizenship acutely. The advantages that nationalists enjoy are considerable. I want to work for a society that all our people feel comfortable in and with.

There are Unionist towns across Northern Ireland, such as Limavady, Kilkeel and Desertmartin, where nationalist parades can and do take place on a traditional basis without any Unionist objection or protest. I want to see that reciprocated for the Orange Order in places such as Garvaghy road in Portadown.

The charge is often made that Unionists are against change. That charge is made by those who seek to further the fallacy that Northern Ireland is a cold house for Catholics. That is utter nonsense. The acceptance of that premise has done untold harm in the past 30 years. Only

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when there is a realisation that the Unionist community needs to see its grievances addressed will there be the possibility of widespread acceptance of institutions that can accommodate Unionists. We want to see change. We want change such as--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but his speech is going rather wide of the amendment on the Order Paper for today, which relates to the environment, rural affairs and transport.

Mr. Campbell: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall endeavour to return to that as quickly as I can.

Of course we want to see change. The part of Northern Ireland that I represent is disadvantaged. The rural areas and the urban populations have been considerably disadvantaged. I want to work with all hon. Members in the House to tackle the problems faced by both urban and rural communities.

Future generations in Northern Ireland want to have the same advantages that certain sections of our community have enjoyed for generations. We want to see change in Northern Ireland that will allow the promotion of our community's cultural background in the same way as the nationalist community has had its cultural background promoted and financed.

I want the beautiful north coast in my constituency to be enjoyed by all citizens and visitors from across the globe in true peace and prosperity. The beautiful Roe valley, the wonderful beaches of Castlerock, Downhill and the premier resorts of Portrush and Portstewart make the constituency one of the most beautiful and stunning parts not only of Northern Ireland but of the entire United Kingdom.

In conclusion, I want to see the Government strive for a system of government to which every democrat can give allegiance and support, and in which genuine equality and freedom is accorded to all citizens of my beloved Province.

8.7 pm

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) on his maiden speech and all other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. Like the hon. Gentleman, I come from a working-class background. In the past four years, I have listened to him and many of his colleagues in this place, and I have to say that my experiences are fundamentally different from theirs in Northern Ireland. I can only hope and pray that, ultimately, we shall see in Northern Ireland a lasting peace from which all the people of Northern Ireland will benefit.

I am delighted to speak in this debate on the Queen's Speech. I wish to talk about foot and mouth disease and its impact in my area. In Dumfries and the neighbouring constituency of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, 24 per cent. of GDP is attributed to agriculture. The foot and mouth disease outbreak of the past two or three months has had a real impact on the area. People who believe that they had no real connection with farming soon discovered differently.

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Much of the debate in recent weeks and months has centred around agriculture and the impact of the disease on farmers, but others have been seriously affected. Some businesses closed down almost overnight. Those included agricultural contractors and people involved in tourism, which we have grown to realise is closely connected with farming. So foot and mouth paints an extremely bleak picture.

If there is any comfort at all for the people in my area and the neighbouring constituency, it is down to the fact that the disease was handled somewhat better there than in other parts of the country; but there is little consolation for those who are hit hardest. There is a variety of different views on the way in which the situation was handled because, let us not forget, some farmers lost generations of work--burned before their very eyes as the disease hit hard. We are talking about pedigree livestock; bloodlines that could be traced back to the 1850s were lost, never to be recovered. It was extremely hard for these people, but some of them have been quick to come back and I compliment those who were working on the ground, trying to deal with the crisis. I echo some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who spoke about the temporary veterinary inspectors who worked hard and with so much dedication to lessen the impact on households and families.

Hindsight is a magnificent thing, and I have never seen as many experts come out of the woodwork as I have in recent weeks and months. Suddenly, everyone had the magic answer of vaccination, which they said should have been used from day one; but obviously, people had different agendas. No one was offering any other real alternative, and I firmly believe that the cull policy was the best way to proceed. That policy is still being carried out on the English side of the border.

The issue started with cross-party consensus, but regrettably, became an election issue. Only two days before polling day, in my area, stories were being spread that vets and slaughtermen were returning on 8 and 9 June to carry out further culling. There was no truth in that. Although the vets did return to my area, it was to carry out the next steps--part of a process of healing and moving forward--of blood testing and placing sentinel cattle in some of our fields. Thus in Dumfries, and in Dumfries and Galloway, we have moved forward significantly.

The prospect of an inquiry has been raised. An inquiry was held in 1967, but regrettably, little was done from that time onwards, which is why, in 2001, we were left somewhat wanting. We should remember that. In 2001, an unprecedented 2,000 animal transportation movements, involving 1.3 million sheep, led to a rapid spread of the disease. Therefore, we need an inquiry, but we also need a follow-up to it--we must consider how we would deal with foot and mouth if it ever arose again, and we must examine procedures every three, four or five years. The inquiry must find out how the outbreak started. I am on public record as saying that, if criminal proceedings have to be brought against any person, or any group of people, we should not be afraid to bring them. We should highlight what was done well and should not be afraid to acknowledge where we got things wrong.

We need explanations for cases that suddenly arose some 30 miles from the nearest previous case. The inquiry should examine traffic movements and vehicle

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movements, and the potential for the spread that arose from those. It should consider human movements--people working uncleanly and causing spread.

One of my local newspapers printed a letter from a chap inquiring about mushroom sheep--sheep that had not been there in the evening but had appeared the next morning. Lo and behold, some two or three days later in another part of his neighbourhood, the same thing happened. I am almost convinced, although I cannot be sure, that I witnessed similar happenings. Sheep would suddenly appear in fields where previously there had been nothing. It beggars belief that, throughout this difficult period, people may well have been carrying out illegal livestock movements. Of course there has been rumour and gossip, and the inquiry must get to the bottom of some of that, too.

Is there a role for vaccination? Should vaccine ever be used in the future? We need extensive research and development to ascertain whether it is a possibility.

Foot and mouth never really was an election issue. People's real concerns in rural constituencies are the same as they are in cities and urban areas: they are about the national health service and children's education. The amendment before us talks about "world-class public services". Earlier this year, the Leader of the Opposition appeared at a fund-raising event in my constituency and spoke about policing in the area. He said that he wanted to return police numbers to the figures that stood in May 1997 and crime to 1997 levels. I have news for him: crime has fallen by 5 per cent. The number of uniformed police officers has risen by 42, and the number of civilian staff by 29. I do not think that people in my constituency would want to see a return to the May 1997 figures.

People's real concerns also include transport, and the Tory theory behind bus deregulation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud said, Stagecoach is a major player in my area. I am not convinced, despite all the money that the Government and our local authority have ploughed into public transport, that we are getting the transport provision that we need and deserve.

People are also concerned about affordable housing. Let us never forget that, to many people, affordable housing means an affordable rent.

Let me sum up by saying that some people should not return to farming. I do wonder that there is a healthy situation in my area, where 24 per cent. of GDP is connected to farming. I do not believe that that is healthy. We need to provide support to farmers and communities to ensure that we have a vibrant rural economy. That can happen only when people sit down and discuss the issue as whole rural communities, rather than individual groups within communities.

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