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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): May I first, uncharacteristically, agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? In my constituency, the overwhelming majority of council tenants would much rather be tenants of the excellent Conservative-controlled borough council. Tenants who unfortunately come under housing associations get a much worse deal. All that they want is a level playing field on finance when a decision is made, and we are doubtful that we will achieve that.
There are three reasons why I believe that the House should not adjourn immediately. One is a local issue, one is a regional issue and the third is an international issue. I should like to take up the local issue first. A month ago, a mother of a young constituent of mine, Alistair aged 10, approached me. She said that, for six years, medical opinion had said that her son should have occupational therapy, yet he had had it for only six months in that period. I thought that that was amazing and disgraceful. I did not even necessarily believe it to be true at the time.
"Unfortunately our Specialist Speech and Language Therapist for dysfluency has left the department and we have so far been unsuccessful in replacing her. We have advertised nationally and in our professional journals for this and other vacancies and have also encouraged internal applicants to apply, offering training, development and support packages in this specialist field. You will no doubt be aware that there are significant problems with recruiting Speech and Language Therapists nationally, and this is particularly difficult in some specialist areas such as dysfluency.
As an interim measure, we have been fortunate to have been able to employ some short-term locum Speech and Language Therapists through Locum Agencies. Obviously, this has a significant cost implication and so we would be unable to maintain continuous employment even if the staff were available. This has resulted in periods where there has been no service available for this client group, and long waiting lists building up.
Alistair was referred to us in October 2002 and, following initial assessment by a generalist Speech and Language Therapist in Bracknell, was referred to the specialist service in Slough. Alistair received 10 appointments of individual Speech and Language Therapy from locum specialist therapists between March and October 2003. Unfortunately there was no service for some months due to lack of suitably qualified/experienced locums. Alistair was seen again by a locum Speech and Language Therapist in October 2004 but as she was only employed for a very limited period, she was unable to offer Alistair on-going therapy.
We are very aware that this situation is extremely unsatisfactory for the many children and families who are in need of specialist intervention and would like to assure you that we are doing everything we can to recruit a suitable, permanent Speech and Language Therapist. In the meantime, we shall continue to employ locum therapists whenever possible and will offer Alistair further specialist intervention as soon as we can."
I have written to the Secretary of State for Health to draw the matter to his attention. I have yet to receive a reply, but I would appreciate it if the Minister in his summing up assured me that there would be a proper reply. It is not good enough to say, "Perhaps you Tories when you were in Government should have trained more therapists." I remind the Minister that he has been in office for seven and a half years, and the situation has steadily deteriorated. No action seems to have been taken to put matters right. I need to have undertakings that my constituents' children will have proper therapy when it is clear that that is what is required.
The second issue is the regional one. We in the south-east were naturally delighted at the result of the referendum in the north-east. The people of the north-east did the right thing. In all my experience in elected office, I have never come across members of the public or constituents who wanted more politicians, more bureaucrats and more layers of Government.
We in Berkshire got it just right a few years ago. We abolished the county council and we now have excellent unitary authorities run by three different political parties from time to time, although increasingly by the Conservative party. As they are unitary authorities, they deliver and the buck stops with them, so the idea of Berkshire, which got rid of the county council some years ago, wanting a regional assembly is wrong. It is the last thing that we want.
I hope that the Government will seriously consider abolishing the dreadful South East England regional assemblySEERA. It serves no useful purpose; the people who are members of it are not directly elected and are answerable to no one. There is a bunch of bureaucrats, a bunch of hangers-on from various quangos, one or two semi-out-of-work business men and trade unionists, and one or two councillors with nothing better to do. They cost us a lot of money. Worse still, recently they tried to foist huge numbers of extra houses on the south-east, which was deeply unwelcome. A combination of Conservative councillors on SEERA and environmental groups managed on 29 November to reverse the decision.
We need to have planning matters decided by the local planning authorityin my case, Bracknell Forest borough council or Wokingham unitary authority. If the decision is not satisfactory, there is an opportunity to appeal to the Secretary of State. That is the right way
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to proceed. We do not want planning decisions made through some unelected regional body. SEERA is costing a lot of money and is unnecessary. I should like the Minister to assure me that the Government are seriously considering, in the light of the referendum result, abolishing such quangocracies.
Mr. Arbuthnot: Is my right hon. Friend aware that SEERA has not even enabled the A3 redevelopment at Hindhead to go ahead, and it has been pushed off into the distant future? Is there any point in SEERA whatever?
Mr. Mackay: I apologise to my right hon. Friend for saying, "Quickly." I have just noticed that I get an extra minute. Knowing that he is one of the most concise Members of the House, I should have realised that he would not take a full minute.
The final, international point that I wish to raise concerns Africa. My hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House has been pressing the Leader of the House week after week for a debate on Africa and the middle east. The Leader of the House has appeared sympathetic to that request, but has not delivered. When his deputy sums up, I hope that he will be able to assure us that sometime in early January we will have a debate on those two separate and important areas.
I shall restrict myself to Africa and the urgent need for a debate on that subject. The Minister will be aware that, only today, Save the Children has had to pull out of Darfur, which will have dire consequences. He may have heard the organisation's director on the "Today" programme this morning rightly castigating the United Nations for not delivering the number of troops and observers necessary to police properly a vast area that is virtually the size of France. Urgent action is needed in Sudan.
I know that I do not have to underline to the Minister and to the House that the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate under the revolting Mugabe regime. I concede that Zimbabwe requires a largely African solution, but we could put more pressure on the African Union and, more importantly, on the regional superpower, South Africa, to ensure that peace, stability and democracy are returned to Zimbabwe. I emphasise again that smart sanctions should be introduced against the Mugabe regime and its financial backers. That would have a positive effect without in any way harming the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered too much.
The final reason for an urgent debate on Africa is to clarify the British Government's position in relation to Equatorial Guinea and, in particular, the failed coup, which nearly took place earlier this year. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes
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(Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, has rightly asked several questions of the Foreign Secretary and it has become clear that, at the least, mistakes have been made and, possibly, a cover-up attempted. Initially, the Foreign Secretary and the Government maintained that they knew nothing about the abortive coup in advance. It has become clear that a security analystan ex-member of the South African intelligence service named Johann Smithsent a detailed email to the Foreign Office in December last year, informing it that he believed that a coup was planned for Equatorial Guinea. That was denied by the Foreign Secretary, but has now been admitted. Why was it initially denied? It looks as if the Government wanted regime change by proxy. In some ways, I would not oppose that, because Equatorial Guinea has a revolting dictatorship, but the Government had a duty under international law to report the possibility of a coup to the UN and to that country. We know that the Government took the report seriously, because they advised British citizens in Equatorial Guinea of the need to leave. There is a nasty smell from somewhere and there may have been a cover-up. It is vital that the Foreign Secretary takes part in the debate on Africa, answers questions about Equatorial Guinea and puts the record straight.
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