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29 Oct 2002 : Column 679—continued

Children's Trusts

12. Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): If he will make a statement on the establishment of children's trusts. [75361]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith) : Children's trusts will provide an opportunity for delivering better services and outcomes for children and families. They will be based in local councils with power for the first time to commission health and social care. The first pilot sites will start from April 2003 and we will be seeking expressions of interest in the next few months.

Mr. Dawson : I thank my hon. Friend for that response and for the news about possibly the most hopeful development in children's services in 30 years. May I have a pilot project in my constituency? Such a development would be particularly relevant in north Lancashire, where we struggle with the archaic structures of county councils and district councils. People who work hard to deliver good services need

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extra support to enable them to provide joined-up services linking health, social care, education and the voluntary and community sectors. I can make no better recommendation for my constituents.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is a very good campaigner for his constituency and also for the principle behind children's trusts. I know that he believes, as I do, that children who have been abused or neglected or who are disabled need a joined-up service. They do not need bureaucratic boundaries getting in the way of the provision of that service. I hear what he says about his constituency. He makes an important point about the need to ensure that we develop the pilots in a range of areas, including those with two-tier authorities like his. Although I cannot make him any promises today, I will certainly listen carefully to any proposals that come forward from his constituency and area.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): In establishing trusts and, I hope, managed networks for the provision of children's services, can the Minister tell the House when she will publish the Government's substantive response to the Kennedy report about the configuration of acute hospital services for children?

Jacqui Smith: We have published the response to the Kennedy report. We said that it raised considerable issues about acute hospital care and that that would be the first part of the children's national service framework. We are hoping to publish that first part of the national service framework later this year.


13. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What progress has been made in implementing the national service framework for children in relation to autism. [75362]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. David Lammy): The disabled children's external working group is developing draft standards and interventions that will help improve services and support for disabled children. One of the national service framework exemplars that we publish will be on services for children with autism.

Dr. Ladyman : The national service framework, using autism as an exemplar, has the potential to provide a sea change in the way in which autistic people and their carers are looked after, but the key will be to ensure that it is a genuine cross-departmental exercise and that the exemplar is followed in the field. How will my hon. Friend ensure that it is being implemented out there, where it matters?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend takes an active interest in autism as chair of the all-party group on autism. Francine Bates, chair of the external working group, is meeting him on 5 November to take these ideas forward and we will consider them in due course. Joint guidance

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has been issued for consultation by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills to help families, children and carers affected by autism.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Is the Minister aware that children on the autistic spectrum often need speech therapy and occupational therapy? A constituent whose child needs occupational therapy recently told me that the list in west Norfolk is running

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at 36 months and that the child has therefore been removed from the list. There is a big problem in some areas; it is not simply a question of resources but of long-term planning and of the Government emphasising recruitment. Will the Minister take this on board?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The number of language therapists has increased from 4,870 in 1997 to 5,680 in 2001. He is right to say that we must continue to work hard in that area.

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3.30 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to debate an important matter that requires specific and urgent consideration, namely,

This is against the background of much concern in the United States, not least from the American conference of Roman Catholic bishops who urged the President and members of Congress to step back from the brink of war and to work with other nations and the United Nations actively to pursue effective alternatives to war to address Iraq's threats.

There are a number of questions that the House of Commons must address urgently.

First, will Britain be, in a legal sense, in a state of war with Iraq if we join the US attack?

Secondly, why did President Bush have to get a vote in Congress authorising the use of force, when the British Government have not indicated their intention of doing so?

Thirdly, if British forces are engaged, will that be done under the royal prerogative, which requires no parliamentary authority?

Fourthly, what will be the position of British citizens now living and working in Iraq? Will they be advised to leave the country before the attack or to stay and, if so, what protection can the Government give them?

Fifthly, will British troops, if they are captured, be entitled to protection under the Geneva convention?

Sixthly, will British troops be under the orders of American officers and will they be required to serve in an army of occupation?

Seventhly, will the British Government be consulted on the date when hostilities begin and will they be a signatory of any agreement to bring the war to an end?

Eighthly, what compensation will the British Government give British citizens who suffer financial loss as a result of war?

Ninthly, will Iraqi citizens living in Britain be treated as enemy aliens and imprisoned, and under what statutory authority?

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Tenthly, what rights will Iraqi soldiers captured by British forces have, and will they qualify for the protection of the Geneva convention?

Eleventhly, what will be the position, under military law, of members of the British armed forces who refuse to fight because they believe that a war waged against Iraq that has not been authorised by the United Nations could lead to their being charged at a war crimes tribunal under the International Criminal Court, which the British Government support?

Twelfthly, how would the position of British troops charged with war crimes differ from that of American troops, given that the United States has declared itself exempt from any international criminal court?

Thirteenthly, how would the British Government respond to a charge of war crimes of the kind brought under the Nuremberg court?

Fourteenthly, have the Law Officers been consulted on these issues and will their report be published and laid before Parliament?

In no way am I anti-American. I share a great great-grandmother with one of the American Presidents. I have many American friends, as do many people in the House. We are not anti-American, but we think that these questions should be urgently addressed.

Mr. Speaker: I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said and I have to give him my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24 and I cannot, therefore, submit the application to the House.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many of us are deeply concerned about the latest threats from Colin Powell and believe that they are evidence of the further intention and determination of the United States to start that sort of war. We think that it is time for the fancy footwork from those on our Front Bench to stop and for us to have a firm statement about exactly what our policy is on Iraq. I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, as the protector of Back-Bench rights, to urge the Government at least to make a statement to the House.

Mr. Speaker: Ministers will have heard what the hon. Lady has said.

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Air Weapons

3.34 pm

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I beg to move,

All Members receive complaints about antisocial behaviour, which comes in a variety of guises. The consequences for victims will depend on the severity of the crime and how the individual overcomes the trauma, be that physical or emotional. Almost every year, Parliament approves a crime Bill, in the genuine belief that the provisions will protect the innocent, help the victims and deter and punish the perpetrators.

Our constituents have a right to expect us continually to pursue the fight against crime, but they know that there is no magic wand and that some laws are more successful than others. Yet in our pursuit they expect us to consider not only new laws but existing laws, and whether they need revising in order to be relevant to our modern day. It is on that basis that I, together with colleagues from both sides of the House, believe that the time has come to take an important first step to tackle the airgun menace, and I am grateful to all the hon. Members who signed my early-day motion on that.

My Bill seeks to amend the Firearms Act 1968, by raising the age for unsupervised possession and use of air weapons from 14 to 17 years. That would bring the legislation relating to air weapons into line with other gun control legislation. My Bill will not have an effect on youngsters under 17 using air weapons in registered clubs.

The power of the modern air weapon means that it is used to kill, to maim and to cause serious injury to our constituents. The power of the modern air weapon means that it can kill, maim and cause serious injury to animals—domestic and wild.

It is reasonable to ask whether raising the age to 17 for unsupervised use and possession will put a complete end to the misery caused by air weapon use. The answer is no, not a complete end, but it might help, perhaps considerably. That is enough in my book to meet the test that all proposed legislation must meet: XWill it work?"

Every week, a local newspaper somewhere in the United Kingdom will carry a story about a person or animal being attacked, or being the victim of an air weapon. The effects range from a minor abrasion to death. Last year, I launched previous, related legislation, the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, and since then I have been inundated by letters from victims and from local newspapers—to which I am very grateful—that are running their own campaigns. The Police Federation has written to me to express its support for the proposals, and doctors also want further restrictions on air weapons. Animal welfare organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—to which I am grateful for helping me to prepare the Bill and providing me with research material—all want change. Why? Because of the costs incurred in time and money and, most important, in human and animal suffering.

Air weapons offences are on the increase. In 1997 there were 7,506 offences; in 2001 there were 10,227. In the same period, the trends for slight and serious injury

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were on the increase. Those relate to the person. The RSPCA reports that tens of thousands of domestic and wild animals are attacked by air weapons every year; it advises me that its most recent survey among vets shows a further increase in such attacks.

Why the age restriction? Home Office figures show that, overwhelmingly, the average age of conviction for air weapons offences in England and Wales is in the middle teen years. All too frequently, the hundreds of newspaper cuttings that I have been sent describe the perpetrators as teenagers. The many campaigns run by local newspapers deserve our praise, because they have been a considerable force in bringing to our attention the nature of these weapons and the effect that they are having on the communities that we represent.

Air weapons are seen by many as toys. Perhaps that is not surprising, given that children as young as 14 are able to possess them. While in Blackpool this year, I saw a sign in a gun shop that apparently boasted that no licence was required for the deadly-looking weapon on display.

Parliament needs to send a clear message to our constituents that we take this matter seriously, and the Bill would make a start. I should like to provide the House with some examples of the crimes committed with air weapons in our communities. Some are random victims of air weapon attacks, such as 15-year-old Tommy Morris from Abbey Wood in south-east London. He was out with a friend on his bike in the local park and felt a thud in his back, which resulted in breathing difficulty, and he was rushed to hospital. The pellet had punctured his lung, destroyed his gall bladder and ricocheted through his liver, ending up just a millimetre away from the main artery. Tommy was unable to have a liver transplant—the risk was too great—so now he lives with a pellet in his liver that could move at any time.

Eleven-year-old Kirsty Hill from Portsmouth was shot in the face while playing with a friend and nearly lost an eye. In Bradford, two boys, aged 15 and 16, were seen hanging out of a bedroom window, firing indiscriminately at children while they played, which resulted in a 12-year-old's eye being shot out.

A 15-year-old from Gateshead, Nicola Disten, lost one of her eyes when it was shot out by two teenage boys. Her local newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, collected some 18,000 signatures from people calling for stricter gun laws. Her injury is one of many incidents in the north-east that have been highlighted by the Evening Chronicle's campaign. In Lancaster, a 16-year-old was shot in the jaw and surgery was required to remove the pellet. In August this year, Teresa Brooks, a 36-year-old married woman from Hull, was shot dead by an air pistol.

In every part of the country, there are scores of incidents where people are victims of airgun attacks, but as well as human suffering, thousand and thousands of animals are victims of air weapon attacks every year, and they are frequently used as target practice. The Cats Protection League estimates that some 10,000 cats are killed, maimed or injured every year. The RSPCA reports that swans are used as target practice. In Bolton, a postman came under attack himself when trying to protect three swans from an air weapon attack, and he and the swans ended up with severe injuries.

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The number of attacks always rises during school holidays, giving further weight to the argument to raise the age limit for possession by youngsters from 14 to 17, but as well as human and animal suffering there is concern about the cost to our public services. Research by doctors at St James's university hospital in Leeds found that one in 10 victims of air weapon attack had to be hospitalised.

More than half the call-outs of some police armed response units are in response to incidents involving air weapons; as I have said, I am pleased to have received the Police Federation's support.

The law has not kept pace with the increasingly powerful weapons that are causing misery and mayhem in our constituencies. It is simply not good enough for us to wring our hands and tell our constituents that nothing can be done. As I have said, my Bill is not a panacea, but it is an important first step to tackle the air weapon menace that is plaguing our communities, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Jonathan Shaw, Vernon Coaker, Mr. Chris Mullin, Ms Bridget Prentice, Ms Julia Drown, John Austin, Paul Holmes, Jeff Ennis, Michael Fabricant, Mr. Roger Gale, Derek Conway and Mr. David Amess.

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