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Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the Christmas Adjournment debate. There are three or four local issues that I wish to raise.The first concerns my early-day motion 170, which I laid before the House after the suicide of my constituent Sarah Cherry, following her involvement over the internet with Amazon book company, through which she obtained a copy of the book "Final Exit", which gives details of how to commit suicide. It was a tragic case. She had also been involved in some of the suicide chat rooms. The local community in my part of Lancashire is extremely concerned about the circumstances. My local evening paper, the Lancashire Evening Post, has been running a campaign to raise with parents and teachers the concerns that many of us have about access to internet chat rooms and to the book.
My concern is that vulnerable young people are the group most at risk of suicide. If they can easily get access to websites or books that make it easier for them to commit suicide and seem to suggest that that is a good thing to do, rather than linking them with organisations such as the Samaritans, we will see more tragic cases such as that of my constituent. Since my local paper ran the campaign, several other instances in the locality have come to light of young people who committed suicide as a result of access to suicide chat rooms.
We have been able to persuade Lancashire county council to remove the book from its bookshelves. We have also persuaded some internet providers to close some of the chat rooms or introduce links from chat rooms to the Samaritans. It is an issue that Ministers need to consider seriously. Although I accept that it may not be appropriate to ban the book altogether, we should do all we can to ensure that it is not easily accessible to our vulnerable young people. Too many have committed suicide because no one was there to put them in touch with the right support mechanisms.
My second point is another constituency issue and concerns the reorganisation of regiments announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence last week. I and many other Lancashire MPs have long been involved with our local regimentsin my case, the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. In the west Pennines there is also the King's Own Royal Border Regiment and the King's Regiment. As I understand it, those regiments reached agreement that, if there were to be a merger, the name of the new regiment would be the Royal Lancashire Regiment. Indeed, an early-day motion on that matter has been signed by many MPs in the area, who also wrote to the Secretary of State to reinforce the point.
It now emerges that when the Army Board considered what recommendation to make to the Secretary of State, it did not agree that the new regiment should be named the Royal Lancashire Regiment. Rather, it came up with
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the name of the King's Lancashire and Border Regiment. About 90 per cent. of recruits for the new regiment come from the historic county of Lancashire, and many of us are keen, if we are to give the new regiment the best possible start on recruitment and reinforce local identity, to keep the name a simple one that reflects the history of our area. The Royal Lancashire Regiment was agreed by the three regiments, as I said, and I am very concerned to see that that name has not been adopted. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend would listen to further representations from Lancashire Members on this particular point.
I have a plaudit for my right hon. Friend. I was able to visit Warton with a number of colleagues on Friday, when my right hon. Friend announced the formal signing of the second tranche of the Eurofighter, under which 89 planes will be built. The order is worth £4.3 billion and will secure 16,000 jobs. That is crucial in my part of Lancashire, where thousands of people are employed in the aerospace industry.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for making that order, I also want to make the point that the aerospace industry depends in many ways on the existence of the Department of Trade and Industry. The Export Credits Guarantee Department system is crucial to the industry's success in being able to secure export orders. Without the DTI and that system, many of the export orders would not go ahead, which would mean the loss of thousands of jobs. During my seven and a half years in the House, I have lobbied on several occasions, on behalf of the aerospace industry, for launch aid from the DTI for various rounds of the Airbus expansion. Again, without that launch aid from the DTI, the expansion and success of the Airbus would not have taken place.
It needs to be said in the HouseI shall certainly ensure that it is mentioned to my constituents in Lancashirethat it would be a mistake to adopt the Liberal Democrat policy of abolishing the Department of Trade and Industry and spending the money elsewhere. At a time when the economy is doing well it may seem unimportant, but it would undermine the long-term security of employment in areas such as mine. I am sure that my constituents will think very seriously before risking their livelihoods by voting Lib Dem in the general election.
Finally, I want to talk about one of the key horticultural areas of the United Kingdom. The area around the villages of Banks, Hesketh Bank and Tarleton in my constituency has for many generations been the heart of the Lancashire horticultural industry. Hundreds of acres are under glass and there are also acres and acres of top-class field vegetables grown there. Traditionally, they have been good working agricultural villages based on smallholdings run by families. The products are delivered to Preston wholesale market and then distributed more widely.
Over the past 30 years, the character of those villages has completely changed. New properties have been built by people who do not work in the area for people who do not work in the area, but commute out of it. Also, supermarkets have changed the way in which they procure produce and now prefer a limited number of producers. That has brought about consolidation in the industry, with the result that the number of people
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employed in it has changed. Instead of a handful of family members, there are now some cases of firms with more than 300 people working in them.
The seasonal nature of the business has traditionally allowed school pupils to support it during the summer, accompanied by some overseas seasonal workers when things get particularly difficult. The season in Lancashire runs from February to November on the basis of full employment and virtually all the demand for seasonal labour comes from overseas. The supermarkets now demand that production goes on for 12 months of the year, and that what is grown is put in nice little plastic bags. As a result, all the farms have to have packaging houses, and they import produce from overseas to ensure continuity of production.
Hundreds of people in my area now work on farms all year round. It is an area of full employment, where fairly expensive detached properties are increasingly common. People who want to work in the industries to which I have referred can no longer afford to live in the area and that means that the vast majority of workers come from overseas. Traditionally, such workers have been housed in caravans in the green belt, even though that is against planning policy. Recently, one grower wanted to convert a large building in Gravel lane in Banks to house about 40 young Polish workers. Those workers had no record of antisocial or inappropriate behaviour, but the community is a small one, with only 40 or 50 properties. To put 40 workers with no connection with the area in a single building does not seem ideal.
I hope that the Government will ensure that planning policy achieves a proper balance in respect of residential property needed to meet the needs of local businesses and their local or overseas workers. At present, there is almost no affordable or rented property in any of the villages that I have mentioned. Employers have to go to places such as Skelmersdale, Preston and Leyland to recruit UK workers and then bus them to my area. Otherwise, they have to rely on workers from Poland, South Africa, Namibia and other parts of the world.
I want to place on the record my concern about how planning policy is developing in the villages. The planning authority recently produced new guidelines for housing migrant workers. That is an improvement, as the aim is to concentrate housing developments in permanent buildings on the farms. At present, workers are housed in caravans scattered around the fields, or in properties purchased or built a long way away from the farms. That is a problem.
We must get right the balance between development for residential purposes and what needs to be put in place for businesses. These are agricultural businesses, and in my part of Lancashire the idea that farms involve only a handful of people who work across a large area is no longer tenable. There are probably 1,000 people who work on farms in the villages to which I have referred, yet the total population is only about 10,000. Most of those workers are wage earners rather than owner-managers. That may be unusual, but it raises specific planning problems that I should like the Government to address.
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