Mr. Hoon: I am aware from previous ministerial responsibilities of the enormous amount of work done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to put pressure on the Burmese regime to recognise human rights and take appropriate steps to restore Burma as a respectable member of the international community. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his continuing efforts as well.
I commend the research paper on the 2005 general election produced by the House of Commons Librarya must for political anoraks, including all Members of Parliament. It is important that we have a debate on postal voting, which has provided an enormous opportunity for many people to exercise their democratic right. A small minority of cases, however, have generated a great deal of press coverage. We should have a debate as soon as possible so that we can restore confidence in a system that worked in the vast majority of constituencies up and down the country.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has raised an important matter, which the Government are considering closely with the Electoral Commission. The commission has made certain observations about the use of postal voting, but I agree with my hon. Friend that postal voting has been enormously important in giving people many more opportunities to vote. At the same time, however, we must ensure that they vote in a way that is safe and secure and does not allow any abuse of our democratic system.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for granting me the opportunity to raise this matter. In Treasury questions, the Chancellor referred to press releases issued by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and myself. My hon. Friend has already said that he was misquoted. I, too, was misquoted. My election manifesto says:
"In the Cotswolds we have seen a huge erosion in our way of life, with farmers, country sports, small and special schools, post offices, pharmacies all under threat and our young people cannot afford . . . housing."
That is a very long way from calling for more money for farmers. In the gentlest possible way, may I suggest that if one hon. Member or right hon. Member, however important he is, quotes another Member, he ought to do so correctly?
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to clarify a point of order that I tried to make, however badly, on Tuesday morning, about my inability and that of many of my colleagues to hear the Minister's wind-up speech in the Queen's Speech education debate. It was a common complaint that we could not hear that speech because of the organised noise from the Opposition. In my view, that is a point of order, because anything that stops a Member being heard in the Chamber surely cannot be tolerated by the Chair.
Mr. Speaker: I thought that the hon. Gentleman raised that matter yesterday. What he did was draw in the question of the change of hours, which I told him was not a point of order. I reiterate that I am strong in reminding Members not to enter into private conversation. If there is any orchestrated attempt to drown out any Member, from any part of the House, I will take the appropriate action
Only in relation to one small element. Mr. Speaker, you and I both have daughters, and if one
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has daughters, one is perhaps even more pro women's rights than if one does not. This technique is used more against women Members of the House than against men
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am genuinely surprised by the hon. Gentleman's insistence on this point. I was here for that debate, and I was straining to hear the Secretary of State for Education. I genuinely wondered whether the microphone was operating properly. I have seen occasions on which Ministers, or shadow Ministers, have been shouted down from either side of the House. This was not one of those occasions.
Mr. Speaker: All that I would do is to ask the hon. Gentlemen not to keep going back to this point. I make the case that no one will be either shouted down or talked down in that manner. I have taken a point of order from the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) that there are technical difficulties with the microphones. I have asked the officials to take the opportunity during the recess to deal with the matter.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) are aggrieved that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quoted, apparently inaccurately, from their election addresses. I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because I am concerned that the Chancellor is behaving in a thoroughly unequal and discriminatory fashion. I feel sorely let down and missed out, because he has not quoted from my election address, which is a model of one-nation conservatism, and I commend it to him.
"A nich labhairt san a tha e a toirt toileachas dhomhsa an diugh m'oraid a thoiseachadh ann an cainnt m'oige, caint a thug m'athair dhomh is san tha mi a nis fior thaingeil gu robh e daigeann a deanamh cinnteach gum biodh canan mo sgire agam.
Si Gaidhlig an cainnt Cheilteach a rinn Alba na dhuthaich air a bheil sinn eolach an diugh. Se na Gaidheil a tha againn oirnn fheinn ach chuir na Romanaich Scotti oirnn mar a chuir na Iriquois 'Eskimo' air na h-lnuit.
Thug Gaidhlig is da channanas iomadh buanachd dhomhsa. Tha i a deanamh ceangal ri mo charaidean bhon Chumrighged nach tuig an da chainnt Cheilteach a cheile agus tha i a'cuimhneach dhuinn ceangalaichean ri Eilean Mhanain is ri Eirinn."
In translation, it gives me great pleasure to begin my speech in Gaelic, the language taught to me by my father, and I am grateful for his determination, and my mother's support. Gaelic is the language that made Scotland a distinct entity. We Gaelic speakers call ourselves the Gaels, and have done so throughout history. The Romans called us the Scotti, however, in the same way that the Iroquois named the Inuit Eskimos. Gaelic is now spoken by only about 60,000 people in Scotland and I am glad to be one of them. Being bilingual has given me many benefits, not least an empathy with the Welsh, although the two Celtic languages relate to each other in the same way as the Germanic languages of English and German. My sort of Gaelic, however, is closely related to that of the Isle of Man and Ireland.
I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Calum MacDonald, whom Labour Members in particular remember fondly, I am sure. Calum, a highland gentleman and a very nice man, was most gracious after my election, and I thank him for that.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar stretches for 200 miles. Last week, as I flew from south to north, I experienced three different types of weather. Clearly, the new BBC weather forecast, as every fisherman told me at the fishing exhibition in Glasgow last weekend, is totally inadequate for our needs. I am pleased to say that the BBC sent me a letter, which I received yesterday, indicating a change of heart on the tilt of the map, which had rendered Scotland, 40 per cent. of the land mass of the UK, down to 10 per cent. of the screen area. I welcome the BBC's responsiveness to the needs of my many constituents. The BBC now needs to ensure that we have wind speeds, with directions and isobar charts, on all bulletins. I would like to thank other Members, from many parties, who signed my early-day motion calling on the BBC to think again.
Lewis is the biggest and most populated of the islands, with almost 20,000 people. Fish farming is now the largest employer, although Harris tweed remains an important industry. Travelling south, one reaches Harris, which is currently suffering the loss of around 70 jobs from the closure of the salmon processing plant
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on Scalpaigha problem that, in per capita terms, is far worse for the area than the closure of the MG Rover plant is for the midlands.
Off the west coast of Harris is Taransay, where, as many Members might remember, the television programme "Castaway" was filmed. Over the sound of Harris is Berneray, where the illustrious Prince Charles once spent a spring gainfully employed planting potatoes. Berneray is linked by causeway to North Uist, which in turn is linked to Benbecula, South Uist and on to Eriskay. There has been concern throughout Uist that the linking of the islands with fixed links, leaving no gap for tidal flow, exacerbated the effects of the storms on 11 January, causing the sea to bank on the west coast of Uist, with devastating effects on Iochdar in South Uist and the tragic loss of five peoplethree generations of the same family. The effects of causeways should therefore now be examined to see whether they interact with the tides and storm surges.
To get home to Barra from Uist, I can take the second ferry that links the constituency. The ferry leaves from Eriskay beside the silvery white beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie started his epic and, sadly, failed adventure. On Barra is the famous cockle strand, the Traigh Mhor, which in famine times 150 years ago fed many hundreds. The beach is now Barra's airport, and when one is there, places such as London or Glasgow can feel quite remote, as one can only get to them at low tide. Transportation, and its associated costs, is a pressing problem for the islands and one of the main reasons for depopulation. Sadly, the finest scenery in the UK cannot retain people on its own. In the past 10 years, my constituency has lost 11 per cent. of its populationmore than any other in the House, I believe. That is caused not by geography, but by politics. Ireland is gaining population. Iceland's population grew over the 20th century, as did Norway's. The Faroe Islands trebled its population in the 20th century. Scotland generally suffers from not being an independent country; our Parliament does not even have the powers of the Isle of Man.
In the short term, beyond a constitutional change, there is a pressing need for road equivalent tariff to lower our ferry fares and give our islands the same chance, opportunities and success as those in western Norway. For our air services, we need public service orders on the Benbecula and Stornoway routes to complement the Barra route, to make fares more affordable to the general public.
A former governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, once said that unemployment in the north was a price worth paying for economic stability in the south. As Ireland to the west has shown, however, it is possible to benefit what were once considered to be the political and economic fringes, as long as we are not all stuck with the "one size fits all" economic politics of the sterling zone. Irish independence has been an economic win-win situation for both the United Kingdom and Ireland, as has Norway's independence for Norway and Sweden.
The sentiments of the former governor of the Bank of England make me proud as Punch to be a member of the Scottish National party and to be here todayalthough that is tempered by the fact that on my first day I was taken to Westminster Hall and reminded of the fate of an earlier Scottish nationalist in these parts, William
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Wallace, who was hanged, drawn and quartered for his politics 700 years ago this August. I am not sure that I can match that courage; in fact, I am certain that I cannotjust in case some Members are getting ideas.
In 1900, there were about 50 independent nations on earth. With the decline in imperialism, there are now about 200. I say to my fellow Scots that independence and progress travelled hand in glove during the 20th century, and will continue to do so.
There is much more that I could have said about my constituency, my Labour predecessor and the need for Scotland to choose independence. Let me end, however, by pointing out that my majority at the election was 1441. It is not the first time that that number has troubled some in the House, and I wonder whether it will be the last.