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David Burnside (South Antrim): I fully support the hon. Gentleman's view of the need for reform. In response to a recent question, the Government stated their concern that, under the Spanish presidency, reform has been delayed because of the illegal activity of and Spain's protectionist policies towards its own fleet. Will the hon. Gentleman persuade our Government to stop Spain's illegal activity?
Mr. Carmichael: I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because that was exactly the point that I was about to make. My understanding is that the Spanish are seeking to delay matters because it would be inappropriate for them to be seen to be wrecking while they hold the presidency. They are trying to kick the issue into the long grass until after the next summit, when they will be able to take a much more robust approach to it.
I have received indicationsI have yet to hear anyone deny thisthat the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Aznar, has been making telephone calls to Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, and that that has brought the reform process to a grinding halt. It is remarkable that the Spanish Prime Minister is prepared to intervene to protect the interests of his fishing industry; I wish that our Prime Minister would do the same. If the Minister takes back no other representation today, I ask him to impress on the Prime Minister in particular the immense frustration that exists in fishing communities, as we see the prospect of reform, which is so crucial to our industry andI speak as a fervent pro-Europeanto the credibility of the European Union, being delayed and perhaps denied. The Prime Minister could make a substantial difference through a personal intervention, and it would benefit not just the fishing industry and communities such as minein Shetland, for example, a third of our economy depends on itbut the case for reform of the European Union, of which I know the Minister and the Prime Minister are generally in favour.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to air these subjects, and I hope that the appropriate messages will be heard elsewhere.
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said that this debate was like games on the last day of term at school.
I would also like to use this time to highlight to the Government the major issues that are still being raised in my postbag. The first of those is concern about those basic services on which we all relyeducation, health, social services and transport. What is coming through still is a demand for more funds. In some ways, that is surprising given that, unquestionably, there are more funds in all of those areas, and we are seeing the benefit of that. Time scale may be an issue, however, as recruitment frustrations mean that the delivery of those services does not always meet people's expectations.
In terms of education, Swindon is the lowest funded unitary authority in the F40 group, and among the lowest sixth in terms of funding. The standards, however, do not justify such a low level of funding. I am delighted that, only yesterday, it was announced that we are still on track to have a new system of education funding, and that there will be a consultation period over the summer. I was particularly pleased by the recognition that there should be a baseline for every local education authority, and that money will be allocated so that everyone can be sure that a reasonable level of services can be provided. Of course, the argument will be about what that level should be. I very much look forward to that consultation, however, and I hope that it will be very specific so that schools can recognise how that reasonable level of service can be provided.
Of course, not only the level of service but the speed at which we move towards those new allocations is important. I hope that, in the spending review, the Government will ensure that there is enough money to provide additional funds to schools in Swindon, and that growth money is properly given to those areas that have not had enough funds in the past because of unfair distribution.
Mr. Francois: All hon. Members have an interest in the review of the standard spending assessment system that is under way. I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me if give a quick plug on behalf of Rochford district council and all the other authorities that are members of the town and country finance issues groupTACFIGand that have done particularly badly out of the old SSA formula. They hope that they might get something positive out of the new one as a result of the review.
Ms Drown: The issue is a bit of a nightmare. A consultation carried out with local authorities showed that 98 per cent. thought that they would benefit from a new formula. However, we will not all be happy, so will continue to argue our case. I have received representations from the south-west unitary authorities as well as from the F40 group. Clearly, we shall have to have a mature debate, but I hope that the House will be able to support the proposed baseline and the simplified formula that emerges. However, the debate will be hot until that formula is determined.
It is clear that money is available for social services and health funding. People in Swindon have seen the benefits of that. We will get a new hospital later this year,
To double the amount of money in the health service in real terms by 2008 seems almost unbelievable. The fear is that we shall raise expectations that then cannot be delivered. However, frustrations exist when trying to deliver health and social services to people in need. Recruitment is an issue, but can we not be more flexible over the years so that those areas that face particular pressures can more quickly develop the services that they require?
I also wish to raise a few concerns about the recent announcements for foundation hospitals and delivering the NHS plan. Many of the reasons used to push for the creation of foundation hospitals, such as the argument that not everything can be run for Whitehall, do not apply to just a few hospitals. If everything cannot be run from Whitehall, why will selecting just a few hospitals deliver a better health service? Let us face it, not everything is run from Whitehall. It does not sign every invoice and contract for staff; things have already been devolved. If more issues need to be devolved, should they not be devolved across the whole health service and in the interests of all patients?
The announcements contained statements such as:
The main thrust of the Government's approach to the health service is absolutely right. The NHS plan has received solid support from across the whole health servicefrom the professions, unions, staff and patients. However, my concern is that we are carrying out reorganisation for the sake of it. The Government have already recognised that the service is undergoing great reorganisation and although, it might be boring to continue with the same NHS plan, it is a solid plan and should be delivered. We should stick to it.
The document "Delivering the NHS Plan" talks about introducing full-cost charging for patient services. Given that the NHS always faces pressures and must balance costs exactly with income, the introduction of full-cost charging might create the instability and problems that we faced under the Conservatives' internal market. Most people in the health service recognise that that market failed, as do the Labour party. At the general election in 1997, we stood on a manifesto to change it. I agree that our proposals are not the same as the internal market and would not introduce one to the same extent, but we must be careful that we do not create exactly the same problems that the internal market caused.
On transport, the Potters Bar crash again raised people's concerns about safety. We need to reiterate that the railways are still the safest form of transport. Although
Certain aspects of rail services, however, do not require major investment. I recently received a letter from a constituent who has a disability. She travels from Swindon to Harrogate and back again using three different rail servicesGreat Western, Virgin and Arriva. All of them let her down. People are not there to offer her assistance in getting on and off trains. That is not only a disappointment and a terrible thing to happen, but undermines her and other people's confidence in the next journey that they will make. They fear that people will not be there to provide the assistance that they need to get on and off trains. In the 21st century, it should not be hard to make such service provision. Train companies should be able to provide it.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) referred to criminal activity and antisocial behaviour. I recognise the points that he made, because that issue features in my postbag. We are undoubtedly ready for a real push and investment in youth work, so that people have positive things to do rather than getting involved in criminal and antisocial behaviour.
In Swindon, antisocial behaviour is still associated with some travellers. Many travellers pass through Swindon and do not cause any problems, but some still cause a real nuisance to the resident community. Legislation is not strong enough to deal with the problem, but I am pleased that, in this Session, there has been a ten-minute Bill and an Adjournment debate on the issue. There has been a move in the House to promote cross-party work and we are looking to set up an all-party group on illegal camping and traveller management so as to try to push the issue up the parliamentary agenda.
Residents in my area also suffer from the antisocial behaviour associated with prostitution. It makes many of their lives a misery because they are hassled by some prostitutes and kerb crawlers. The Government have taken big steps forward by making kerb crawling an arrestable offence. However, we need to do more and we were particularly disappointed when antisocial behaviour orders failed in Swindon's magistrates court because of the evidence base. Such orders should be considered in the county courts, which are more familiar with the evidence base that must be created to have the orders imposed. That would make a real improvement to the lives of those who live in areas affected by prostitution.
Another issue that features in my postbagand that of other hon. Membersis the problem created by fireworks and airguns. They injure many people and animals. Only last month, a man in Swindon was shot by a gas-powered ball-bearing gun. The ball-bearing went into his skull and missed his eye by inches. That is just one incident, and many animals are also injured. The Government should consider introducing firework and airgun controls so that we can reduce injuries.
In addition to receiving correspondence, I also try to take many Government consultations out to my constituents. Recently, I helped to undertake the
Nearly all the 506 applications for wind farms have been rejected, and 238 have been opposed by the Ministry of Defence. That raises questions about joined-up government. Why should the Ministry of Defence object to wind farms when other European countries can manage to build many of them without such objections? The Ministry of Defence should not object to this country moving from risky energy sources, such as nuclear energy, which itself poses a danger to the Ministry, to less risky energy sources.