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30 Jan 2003 : Column 1019—continued

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Does the Leader of the House accept that it is totally wrong to

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deal with a matter as important as assistance to fishing communities by means of a written statement, when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs knew full well that no fishing question had emerged high in the ballot today? The questions that fishing constituents want answered are clear: why was there no access to European funding, which means that that money is now available to build up other European industries while ours is being run down, and why was there no new Treasury money, which means that the Department's existing budgets are heavily constrained? Why can the Government find so much to prepare for war in the Gulf, but so little to help our fishing communities in a time of crisis?

Mr. Cook: I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have debated fisheries policy on several occasions, including, I think, as recently as last week. I am advised that there are no other available EU grants for fishing, and we are certainly not aware of any potential source to which we are not applying. On the question of fresh money, I point out to him that, on top of the £85 million already allocated for the fishing industry for the next three years, an additional £60 million has been forthcoming. Those are not inconsiderable sums and there are other hon. Members with industries of their own in trouble who would have welcomed that support.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): Once my right hon. Friend gets a chance to read the Strategic Rail Authority's updated strategic plan for the next 10 years, I am sure that he will view it with concern, given that, like me, he represents a constituency distant from the House. The scaling down of targets and emphasis on the west coast line mean that the hope for improvements up and down the east coast main line will be pushed back. As I serve the distant community of Dundee, I am very concerned, like many others from the north-east, because improvements are not even a distant prospect. Will he hold an emergency debate on the proposals, so that hon. Members can discuss issues relating to investment in the east coast main line?

Mr. Cook: I fully understand the interest of many hon. Members in the impact of the strategic rail plan on their constituencies and towns. The important point on which we can all agree is that investment in the railway industry is at its highest ever and that we must ensure that that is sustained throughout the entire period covered by the 10-year plan. I understand that my hon. Friend is perfectly reasonably concerned about the east coast main line. Indeed, I share that interest as a Member representing a Lothian constituency. However, it is important to us all that we get the west coast main line right and that the SRA succeeds in the objective that it has set itself of ensuring that the rail industry brings costs under control.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): As a keen follower of the turf, will the Leader of the House join me in condemning the Government's wholly ludicrous plans for compulsory passports for every horse, donkey and pony in the country? Does he agree that that has nothing to do with animal welfare and everything to do with bureaucracy originally imposed in Brussels? Can he find any purpose in it, or any mischief that it is trying to

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overcome, apart from the fact that the French like eating horses and do not want drugs to enter the food chain? Can we have an urgent debate in the House about the Government's plans so that those of us who want to maintain the status quo—I hope that he will join me in that—can try to convince the Government of our case?

Mr. Cook: I must declare an interest as a trustee of the British Horse Society, which has an excellent scheme to assist its members in providing appropriate horse passports in response to the directive. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the many people in Britain who purchase horses and ponies find it valuable to be able to have confidence in what they are buying and to know the history of the horse.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Knowing that my right hon. Friend is a passionate opponent of ageism—a passion that seems to increase as the years go by—will he soon allow a debate on the so-called National Institute for Clinical Excellence, specifically on early-day motion 316, which deals with age-related macular degeneration and the possibility that some people will be allowed to go blind simply because they are regarded as being too old?

[That this House believes that people suffering with wet age-related macular degeneration are entitled to full access to treatment that could prevent them from losing their sight; is aware that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence has recently issued provisional recommendations that photodynamic therapy be withheld from many people with age-related macular degeneration; notes that, if accepted, these recommendations will lead to approximately 5,000 people each year suffering from predominantly classic wet age-related macular degeneration having treatment withheld; and calls upon the Government not to agree to these views, but instead to support wider access to photodynamic therapy for all age-related macular degeneration sufferers.]

Mr. Cook: I entirely share my hon. Friend's view that the older I get, the more passionate I become about ageism. We have gone well out of our way to ensure that we have a national health service that treats all patients equally and thus treats it elderly patients fairly. I would deprecate the view that because one is older one should get a lesser standard of care, although we have to be realistic in recognising that, as people get older, there is sometimes less that medical science can usefully do to intervene. However, I assure him that the broad principle that nobody should be discriminated against on the ground of age is correct.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): May I refer to the business for next Wednesday, namely the allocation of resources to the police and to local government? Is the Leader of the House aware that that is important to every Member of this House? Although the top figure for the additional resources appears encouraging, most Conservative areas are being very badly dealt with, my borough of Macclesfield in particular. Had not a floor been put in the figures, Macclesfield would be getting below what the Government believe they should be getting. The time allocated next Wednesday is inadequate for all Members to express a view, so will the

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Leader of the House provide a longer debate? If he cannot, will he ensure that no statement takes place on that day?

Mr. Cook: I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman accepts that our proposed figures are encouraging. Indeed, police numbers are at a record level. I assure him and his constituents that there is nothing in the formula, and nothing in the Government's approach, that provides for political discrimination against areas because of their political affiliation. We have provided three hours for the debate on that day. I always weigh very carefully an application for a statement against the House's need to proceed with its business. In fact, I am often pressed in business questions to provide for more, not fewer, statements.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the conditions in which young offenders are kept in adult prisons? Following the suicide in April 2001 of my constituent Daniel Curnock, who was 17 years old, a decision was made not to allow young offenders to be kept in Gloucester prison. That decision was subsequently reversed owing to capacity problems affecting surrounding prisons. Many issues relating to young offenders in adult prisons need to be tackled, and that could be done in such a debate.

Mr. Cook: I hear with interest what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that the whole House would wish to express its concern and shares his anxieties about young people who are detained and feel driven to suicide for whatever cause. I regret that it has been necessary to put young offenders in a prison that he describes as having been considered inappropriate. As he will be aware, we face substantial demand and pressure in relation to the prison population, which necessarily results in decisions that we would otherwise not wish to have made. I shall draw his observations to the attention of the Home Secretary, and I am sure that they will be taken into account in any future allocations to prisons.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 431, which addresses the serious issue of reducing child deaths from abuse and neglect.

[That this House believes that the numbers of children in this country who die through abuse and neglect is unacceptable and that public policy has failed to reduce the level of child deaths over the last 30 years; is concerned that the Chief Inspector of Social Services records in her eleventh annual report that three per cent, of children on the child protection register and five per cent, of looked-after children are not allocated a social worker, up to 4,000 children without a safety net; is further concerned that there is no systematic follow-up for child deaths or co-ordinated strategy to reduce child deaths in this country; calls on the Government to place area child protection committees on a statutory footing by placing a duty on all the agencies involved in child protection to participate in the work of the committee and support the local authority in discharging its child protection role; and further calls on the Government to establish an independent Children's Commissioner to promote and protect the rights of all children.]

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Given Tuesday's statement on Lord Laming's report into the terrible torture of Victoria Climbié that led to her death, can the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on the findings and 108 recommendations contained in that report, so that Members on both sides of the House can express their opinions, and especially, for many of us, our support for a children's commissioner for England?

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