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Mrs. Browning: I think it fair to say that it was the Minister for School Standards, now in his place on the Treasury Bench, who after two months declined to see me to discuss the important issue of Uffculme school.
Mr. Forth: I am shocked to hear that. I cannot remember in my five years as an Education Minister ever refusing to meet a Member of Parliament, and I hope that it is not going to become the practice of Ministers, even
I shall briefly mention what I describe as more generic policy issues that were raised by several hon. Members, confining myself to those who have had the courtesy to return to the Chamber for the winding-up speeches. We heard two particularly knowledgeable and deeply felt speeches from the hon. Members for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) and for South Antrim (David Burnside). I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office listened carefully to their speeches. Whenever our colleagues from Northern Ireland speak, we should all listen to what they say.
The hon. Member for South Antrim made the point that those of us who represent English constituencies should be careful in our pronouncements about matters relating to Northern Ireland, and we should listen that much more carefully when we are given both an update and an analysis by Northern Ireland Members, especially in these most difficult times. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary listened to the points made about the Belfast agreement, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the current extremely stressful circumstances in Northern Ireland. This debate provided an opportunity to get those messages across.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) spoke about a far more positive matter, the Commonwealth games, to which I am sure we are all eagerly looking forward, and Manchester's success in mounting a world-class sports event. Although, as a London Member, I slightly regret the comparison that he made with London, we have to acknowledge that the London aspect of our national sporting effort has gone badly and repeatedly wrong. I wish that the Government could engineer the same success for Londonand, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, for Birmingham and this land's other great citiesas we have happily seen achieved in Manchester. I hope that the lesson can be learned and that we can build on it, and that Manchester can build on its success following the Commonwealth games.
Care homes were discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Witchell) and others. The Parliamentary Secretary will understand that so repeatedly is that matter being raised now that it is one to which the Government must turn their attention. We do not want spin or the sort of silly assertions that have been made that everything is all right and there is more money in the Budget; our point is that it is the regulatory regime that is driving care homes out of business and denying places to elderly folk who need them so much.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark took us into foreign and defence policy, raising several important questions about our potential involvement in Iraq and Macedonia. Those matters will be raised more frequently in future, because there is a feeling of anxiety, which was reflected in my hon. Friend's remarks. With the House about to go into the long summer recess, we are all nervous that some of those matters might be progressed rather rapidly without the House being able to have any input. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something to us about that. At the very least, Members on
If my hon. Friends will forgive me, I think I have said quite enough. I have tried to do justice to a long, good debate; I counted 27 contributions to it. The sheer scale of interest in and contribution to the debate has, if nothing else, fully justified the stance that we on the Opposition Benches took in opposing the Government's attempt to restrict this debate to a pathetic and minuscule three hours. I therefore hope that the Government, and the Minister in particular, as he has influence in these matters, will have realised the interest in such Adjournment debates and will from now on follow this example and allow the debate to find its own length.
Having said that, I look forward along with the rest of the House to hearing the Minister's detailed reply to the points made in the debate.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Many issues have been raised during 28 speeches and several hours of what has been a very civilised and highly interesting debate that has ranged from the future of Cyprus to the difficulty of finding health insurance for bees. I shall do my best to respond to as many issues as I can. If I am unable to do so, I shall pass hon. Members' comments to ministerial colleagues and ask for a full response to be sent to them as soon as possible.
I congratulate all those who have played their part in contributing to this evening's debate. All Members present have been prepared to stay late and waitsome for a long timefor the chance to speak on behalf of their constituents, which I hope will be appreciated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke at some length and with a depth of knowledge about regeneration in his constituency and especially the problems faced at the moment by Orchard Park. Many of us can quote examplesI can certainly do so from my constituencyof very welcome regeneration schemes over the past few years. He specifically asked about the problems with the delay of demolition of housing in Orchard Park, and asked me to draw that to Ministers' attention. I am very happy to do so.
My hon. Friend also had some words of criticism for the Liberal Democrat local council, which he felt had failed to use the LIFT scheme to improve health care in the area, which would have brought not just health benefits but a number of other benefits in a series of public sector areas. That is another question that I shall be happy to draw to Ministers' attention on his behalf.
The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) has been particularly assiduous in attending the whole of the debate given that, as I understand it, this is sadly her last Parliament, so she is not even seeking re-election. She made a number of points, mentioning along with other Members the funding formula for local government. I stress that a consultation process is being conducted; we are all faced in our various local authority areas with a number of options. I urge hon. Members to make their feelings plain to the Government during the consultation process.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has assured Members that there will be a chance to debate that matter as soon as we return in October. I am sure that Members will want to make the points that they have made today at greater length then. I simply point out that some of the changes in the margins about which people are worried pale into insignificance given the enormous overall increases in public investment that this Government have promised.
The right hon. Lady made a number of specific points about her local health service. I should point out to her that in March 1997, 31,000 patients had been waiting for more than a year. That figure had come down to 20,000 by May this year. The number of those waiting for more than 15 months was 5,000 in 1997, and was down to 334 by May 2002. As the right hon. Lady probably knows, the Government are committed to reducing waiting times to six months by 2005.
The right hon. Lady raised a number of issues: whether the Haslemere community hospital was secure; that people wanted a local care centre in Godalming; and whether the A3 Hindhead tunnel scheme was on time. I shall be happy to obtain responses from Ministers to those specific questions on her behalf. As with health, the transport decisions that she wants for her constituency depend on investment. As I am sure she and Opposition Members are aware, their party is not committed to matching our spending, except on defence and international development.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) spoke about a serious problem in his constituencyempty houses. He told us that he had raised the issue 300 times. A number of us on both sides of the House would be grateful for his problem. I hope that he was encouraged by the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister last week and by the fact that investment in housing will be £4 billion, compared with only £1.5 billion when Labour came to power in 1997. The Government are aware of the problem. We all realise that housing has moved rapidly up the political agenda.
My hon. Friend also asked for a public inquiry into a court case in his constituency. The Government do not want to comment on the case until the outcome of the police disciplinary action is known, but I shall certainly pass on his concerns to the Ministers responsible.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised a number of points, including foot and mouth, which we discussed at some length earlier after the statement. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware of the feeling in the House that there should be a fuller debate when we return in the autumn.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome spoke about the funding formula, which I have already touched on. I urge him to make his feelings plain as part of the consultation process. Like a number of other Members, he referred to the problems in the care home sector. He and several other Members were kind enough to acknowledge that the main problem is the level of fees, rather thanas the Leader of the Opposition suggested recentlythe new standards that are being introduced. The best solution to the fee increases is more investment. That investment, too, has not so far been matched by the Opposition. Indeed when we increased real-terms investment in social services by 6 per cent. this year, it was opposed by the official Opposition.
The hon. Gentleman was the first of several Members who spoke about road schemes in the south-west. He spoke about the A303 and about the A350 which runs between his constituency and Taunton. He will be aware that the regional assembly in the south-west has rejected the main premise of the SWARMMS report and I am sure that the Government will listen with great care to what the assembly has said.
I was not sure from the hon. Gentleman's speech whether his point about the Sparkford to Ilchester section of the A303 was a local or a trunk spending issue. If it is a local issue, it is for his county council to order its priorities. I hope, however, that he welcomes the extra investment that the Government are making in transport infrastructure in general and in roads in particular.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) did the House a great service by reminding us that the Commonwealth games start shortly and that they are based in his constituency. Our thanks go to him for all his work both as leader of the council and as a Member of Parliament to secure Manchester's bid. The games are a huge logistical exercise, but I am sure that Manchester will meet the challenge extremely well.
It has been a great summer for British sports people in the World cup and at Wimbledon. To a certain extent, the achievements of our athletes so far have been under-reported, but I hope that Manchester will make up for that. I am sure that my ministerial colleagues will have heard what my hon. Friend said about his hope that in future Manchester may be an Olympic host.
The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) raised local government finance and the redrawing of the boundary of Ecclesbourne school in his constituency. He said that both the city and county councils agreed with local people, but that that decision was thrown out by the adjudicator and there was no appeal. I was surprised to learn that an appeal could not go to the Secretary of State, and I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to look into the matter, as the situation is surely not unique to the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There may be good reasons why a system was set up in which politicians are removed from decisions about education, but nevertheless that is strange, so I promise to look into it on the hon. Gentleman's behalf.
The hon. Gentleman raised the problem of the A50 link road in his constituency, which he acknowledged had brought benefits as well as concomitant problems. That tends to be a complication with new roads and improved roadsone problem is solved, but another is created. The hon. Gentleman, like my neighbour, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), raised the problem of a noisy concrete road surface. I shall come on to the specifics of the A30 a bit later, but I remind both Members that those roads were ordered in that form of concrete by the previous Government, and that this Government promised to get rid of them and have come up with the investment to do so. I am sorry that the time scale is not quick enough for the hon. Member for West Derbyshire, but we have pledged to replace those noisy concrete roads and shall do so. I will also make sure that the Minister responsible is aware of his concern about
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) raised the significant problems faced by many of our constituents in connection with obtaining visitors visas in India and Pakistan. He rightly said that that is a huge operation as it is currently the wedding season, when traditionally there are large numbers of applications. In the current tense stand-off between India and Pakistan, the measures that the Government have had to introduce have had a serious impact on our ability to deliver a good service. My hon. Friend made the point that we have set up a drop box system, and people who have already visited the United Kingdom should not experience enormous problems coming here again. However, there is a genuine problem for people who have not applied for a visa before, and I shall certainly speak to my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether the situation can be improved as the tension between those two countries eases. It is, however, the responsibility of any Foreign Secretary to ensure that the safety of British staff and their dependants is paramount. The situation between India and Pakistan has been worrying and it is by no means over yet. My hon. Friend mentioned that he would meet my successor at the Foreign Office on Wednesday, and I am sure that he will raise his concerns with him then.
My hon. Friend also raised the problem of travel advice. I agree that it is incredibly important that the Foreign Office update its travel advice quickly when a situation changesthere is no point in people being deterred from visiting a place when it is perfectly safe to do so. Again, however, the Government have a responsibility to try to maximise the safety of British citizens.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of the Hamilton estate, an expanding estate in his constituency, and planning gain. I am sure that my ministerial colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will have heard what he said, but I shall certainly write to them to pass on his concerns. Many of us have probably had a similar experience in our constituencieswe feel that local authorities have not extracted as much as they might have done from developers or that the developers have not delivered what they promised. I hope that the position will be improved by some of the changes that the Government are proposing to introduce.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) raised a number of issues concerning local firms in his constituency that had experienced difficulty in rapidly obtaining export licences for equipment. That is a serious issue, particularly where local firms are put under threat. The hon. Gentleman will understand that more than one Government Department takes such decisions, which sometimes leads to delay. The Government must adhere to the consolidated criteria. The hon. Gentleman will recall that in the Quadripartite Committee report to which he referred, criticisms were made that the Government had been too lax in their granting of export licences to India and Pakistan during the period in question.
It is important that the Government pay attention to those criteria, but it is also important that decisions be made quickly, even if they are negative. Most firms, rather than being kept in limbo, would like to know quickly whether an export licence is likely to be granted to them.
The hon. Member for Christchurch raised the problem of disease in bees, and the problems that one of his constituents had encountered in organising a voluntary insurance scheme for bee-keepers. The Government welcome the efforts of Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd. to encourage bee-keepers to play their part in the identification of notifiable bee diseases, and to bring any suspected incidence of those to the attention of the Central Science Laboratory's national bee unit. Because the fragmented nature of the sector makes concerted bee health action difficult for bee-keepers, we are spending about £1.4 million in England this year on our bee health programme.
The payment of filing fees is the responsibility of the Financial Services Authority, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. I believe that the FSA has consulted the finance industry on several occasions concerning its fee-raising arrangements. Payments of insurance contributions to the financial services compensation scheme, which was created under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, are a matter for the FSCS. The payments are applicable to all DTI-approved insurance companies. I understand that the secretary of Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd. has been in correspondence with the FSCS about the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) was exercised about the takeover of a local firm. If I remember rightly, he said that the firm had closed as a result. He was also concerned about the general health of manufacturing industry in his constituency. Manufacturing productivity is 12 per cent. higher now than it was in 1997. What matters most to manufacturing industry is a stable economy, a good regional policy and infrastructure investment, and the Government are strongly committed to all three.
My hon. Friend raised the matter of the Eckington Moorside mine and the fact that it was under threat. The Government are aware of the position and we are urgently considering possible solutions to the immediate problems of Moorside and to the general problems of the coal industry in relation to employer liability insurance. There are no quick-fix answers, but we are examining the matter closely. We are monitoring the generic problem faced by a number of sectors in securing employers liability insurance. My hon. Friend also raised the problem of the Eckington jobcentre being under threat. I will happily take that up with the Minister responsible.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was the first of several hon. Members to raise the problem of mobile telephone masts. He referred to the Stewart report. There is some misunderstanding about that. Although there has been a report, Professor Stewart is still conducting his investigations. As and when he comes up with more hard-and-fast research, the Government will release it. This is a difficult issue for Government. A balance must be struck between consumers' desire to own
At a recent meeting in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tiverton and HonitonI think that it occurred in Tiverton town hall and that she may have helped to set it upone of the members of the committee working under Professor Stewart, Professor Lawrie Challis, said: