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Mr. Fraser : I do not think that any Opposition Member would disagree with my hon. Friend. We want to ensure that police officers do the job that they are supposed to do in the force, but the bureaucracy put upon them by this Government has prevented them from doing so. As the Conservative party said at the electionand Conservative Members have said the same sincealthough we want more police officers on the streets, we also want the officers who are there to do the job that they are paid to do.
Mr. Amess: I quite agree with my hon. Friend. The Government's strategy is to have many people in uniform, and the public regard some of them as police officers. Those people's powers of arrest, however, are no more than anyone else's: they can talk to someone and detain them for about half an hour. Such things trouble me greatly.
Recently, I was privileged to attend a charity hair and fashion show in my constituency. Before hon. Members make any jokes, it was organised by "2 Smart 4 Drugs", and led by a police officer called Victoria. I support that strategy absolutely. I unashamedly use this opportunity to persuade the Government that we should invest more in such policing. Drugs misuse is the biggest challenge that we face in this country. The problem is everywhere. One of the causes of offending is undoubtedly the misuse of drugs. When the Labour leader spoke on the first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech, I was appalled by his response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who asked
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about cannabis. If any hon. Member feels that it is all right to take cannabis, I challenge them to sit with me at one of my surgeries, where more often than not I will meet someone or hear about a family member whose life has been destroyed by their taking cannabis. It was a huge mistake by the Government to reclassify cannabis. If their Back Benchers are honest, I think they also feel that way. However, the Labour leader told my hon. Friend that we will wait for an expert report. We are always waiting for reports and consulting people, and I hope that all hon. Members will acknowledge the common-sense notion that taking cannabis is not a good idea.
I therefore very much support "2 Smart 4 Drugs", led by a lady called Pam Withrington, whose aunt, Jo Robinson, tragically lost her son as a result of drug misuse: he was found dead in a flat under terrible circumstances. I challenge Ministers who are not convinced on this point to talk to the victims: people who have lost loved ones as a result of drug misuse. "2 Smart 4 Drugs" has a programme aimed at 11 to 13-year-olds, which has three elements: a game show format packed with drug information; an upbeat current song adapted to have drug information lyrics; and an open discussion session about peer pressure and how to handle a situation in which a mate says that it is all right to take drugs. I applaud that initiative. The organisation is short of funds, and reaches out to the whole of Essex, including the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Castle Point and for Braintree (Mr. Newmark), as well as to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk. I hope that the Minister will try to persuade the Home Office to give more funding to that organisation.
We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; in fact, the real threat is from Iran. I want to take this opportunity to persuade the Minister that we need to engage with the good girls and good boys in Iran on this issue. The Iranian regime's lethal cocktail of brutal oppression of its people at home, its export of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism abroad, including to Iraq, and unwavering pursuit of nuclear weapons, represents the real and present threat to the middle east and wider world. What are the Government doing to address that challenge? In a speech in the European Parliament just before Christmas, the charismatic and courageous president-elect, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, whom I recently had the privilege of meeting in Paris, stated that
"the common equation of 'either a military invasion or appeasement' is an exercise in political deception. Appeasement is not the way to contain or change the regime. Nor is it the path to avoid another war. Appeasement only emboldens the mullahs. The answer to fundamentalism is democracy."
It is to the Government's shame that the People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, which, as far as I am concerned, is doing nothing but good, is still on the proscribed list. In the previous Parliament, more than 300 members of this House signed an early-day motion to get the organisation removed from the proscribed list, and I hope that the Minister will do what he can to persuade colleagues to do so.
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In June 2003, Southend experienced a disaster whereby land slip occurred on four sites, all of which were located along the frontage to the Thames estuary, set back from the water line behind the main road frontage. The largest of those occurred at a location known as the bandstand, which resulted in the ground slipping some 14 m and the destruction of buildings in the vicinity. Dealing with that cost £8 million. We need a retaining wall, and to provide that and sort out the remainder of the cliff would cost £35 million, so we are talking about huge sums of money. Because of the current crisis resulting from faulty census figures, the council does not have the money. So far, through the Thames gateway initiative, the Government have given the town £500,000 to strengthen a short length of the cliff near Royal terrace, but I urge the Minister to try to find out whether any other source could be tapped.
I was the member of the Health Committee who suggested an inquiry into obesity. I told my then colleagues that there was no short-term fix; what was required was a 10 to 20-year strategy. I am delighted to say that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, a fellow member of the Health Committee, was instrumental in the inquiry. A conference was held on 4 April, led by Mr. Ron Martin, director of Southend United. I am delighted to report that it was well attended by health professionals, teachers and food manufacturers. Keith Pont of the Essex cricket board was also present. The conference was a huge success, and at the end we agreed that TOASTThe Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trustwould establish a life management project in Southend. Southend United agreed to fund a 10-day run of Outloud Productions' "An Unhealthy Invasion". My hon. Friend and I discussed various issues with McDonalds, which has offered football referee training in Southend schools. Southend-on-Sea borough council has offered to consider ways of using local leisure facilities to best effect. I can tell the Minister, however, that I will not leave the issue alone until we have a proper strategy to combat obesity.
On Sunday, I was privileged to be a guest of the Essex Wildlife Trust on Two Tree island. One of my constituents, Andy Wray, is attempting to break the record for running from Lands End to John O'Groats. The current record stands at nine days, two hours and 26 minutes. Andy Wray will raise money for the British Heart Foundation and the Essex Wildlife Trust. I hope that if anyone wins the national lottery on Saturday, he or she will give some of the money to him.
I end where I began, with the millennium stadium. I shall be back there on Saturday, but before then I shall be at Aston Villa early tomorrow morning. I shall be privileged to watch the finals of the girls' 13-and-under school competition. St. Bernard's secondary school in Westcliff, in Southend, beat 2,800 teams to reach the finals. My youngest child just happens to be playing in the team. Given that I nearly had a heart attack last night watching Liverpool play, I hope the House will support me when I say that I hope the best team wins tomorrow, and will be advised that the best team happens to be St. Bernard's.
When I return to the millennium stadium for the umpteenth time on Saturday to watch Southend UnitedI pay tribute to its manager Steve Tilson and chairman Ron Martinthe team will be playing
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Lincoln City in its bid to be promoted to the first division. Again, I hope I take the House with me when I say "May the best team win"this will be our third attempt. May the best team on Saturday happen to be Southend United.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Stunning, staggering and spectacularthat is how local papers will report the 11 maiden speeches that the House has been blessed with today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) has trawled through them each in turn, I will not do so. Stunning, staggering and spectacular was how my local paper described my election result on 5 May. I pay tribute to my four opponents in that election, who are all excellent people, to Ian Yeomans, who organised the election, and to the general election team, which delivered such a cracking result.
I have known defeat as well as victory, so I hope that the House will allow me to send our best wishes to each of our colleagues, from whatever party, who stood and lost in the election on 5 May. We wish them well in whatever they choose to do in the future. Some of them may, like me and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser), return to the House eventually and serve their constituents well, as they did in the past. However, we must wish them well. Like me, they were removed by a combination of factors. They may have been voted out by the sound hand of local democracypeople power. It may have been because of their own failures. That was certainly what happened in my case. I failed in certain ways, but I hope that I have learned from that defeat and come back as a stronger and better MP to serve my constituents better. However, the main factor that swept them away was macroeconomic trends, which none of us, as individuals, has control over.
I will certainly not be complacent in my constituency after my victory. I will redouble my efforts and work for our third road and improved infrastructure across the constituency, including at Saddlers Farm and Hadleigh. I will fight for a return to the old, traditional and comfortable Hadleigh village centre atmospherewe must return that vibrant village atmosphere to that part of my constituency. I will fight to stop the ruin of our borough by overdevelopment. I will also fight to stop the rot of post office closures and for a new post office to be opened for the Canvey Island shopping centre, where one was closed. Thankfully, the Post Office has agreed to try to find a new location for that post office, and that cannot come soon enough.
I will be fighting to safeguard the interests of our special educational needs children and our special schools, particularly Cedar Hall moderate learning difficulty special school in Thundersley. It is a wonderful school that needs to be protected and to have a sound intake of pupils who can benefit from the services that it offers, particularly at primary stage, rather than only at secondary stage, when it is often too late to build the foundations that special pupils need. Early intervention is good and more cost-effective. When parents want to choose special schools, we should make them available.
I welcome the charming and appropriate clock that was recently erected in my constituency by Councillor Wendy Goodwin in memory of Bernard Braine, who
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was like a father to me. He was my predecessor and represented Castle Point for about 40 years. Imagine following a man who was here for 42 years; it was a difficult job. He was a wonderful, courteous constituency MPthe epitome of what a constituency MP should be. He ended up as the Father of the House, and those Members who knew him will, I am sure, remember him fondly. He was a true gentleman of the old school.
Bernard would also have supported the campaign for fair funding for hospices, which has been taken up by local newspapers. I congratulate them on that and I also congratulate hospice staff, carers, volunteers and fund raisers on their excellent contributions to keeping our hospices going throughout the country. I also want to mention the Hadleigh, Canvey Island and Benfleet Conservative clubs, which do so much to raise money for all charities, but particularly for the Little Haven hospice in my constituency. I pay tribute to all the good people who are involved in that.
About 20 per cent. of adult hospice funding and about 5 per cent. of children's hospice funding comes from the public purse, but less than 2 per cent. of public funds went to the Little Haven hospice last year, which is simply not good enough. I will keep on the backs of the Government to tackle that problem. They cannot pass it down by saying that it is not their business, but only that of the primary care trusts. The Government must take action and I shall hound them at every opportunity on the Floor of the House and in Westminster Hall to force a proper resolution of the problem. The Conservative party believes in 40 per cent. funding both for children's and adult hospices, and I hope that we shall repeat that winning policy in our next manifesto. We are going to win the next election, building on the fantastic foundation that we have now, so I hope that it comes sooner rather than later.
"I know you are a keen champion of the work of hospices, both in your constituency and nationally, and I applaud the initiative you took in bringing the funding difficulties faced by hospices to debate in the House last autumn . . . Your speech in the House referred to 'Treasury Rules'. I believe you were referring to Treasury guidance on the question of Full Cost Recovery for voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations . . . My officials are currently working with the Department of Health who, in turn, meet regularly with representatives from the hospice sector in order to clarify what the above means for hospices, with two aims. Firstly, to arrive at a common understanding of how Government should fund those crucial services which hospices deliver. And secondly, to improve individual funding relationships between PCTs and hospices, which is what we would all like to see."
I look forward to the officials writing to me again in greater detail, as promised, to advise me of what conclusion is reached. It certainly seems like light at the end of the tunnel for hospice funding and it will be welcomed by the hospice movement. I hope that the Chief Secretary will not mind me putting that on the record.
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During the election, two local issues were often raised. One was overdevelopment, which I shall not touch on now, and the other was law and order. Let me make it clear that Castle Point is a safe constituency with low levels of crime. Indeed, the only significant crime is the street crime of kids. It is annoying and it increases the fear of crime among residents. Let me also make it clear that we generally have great kids in Castle Point. There are wonderful kids who do much to help the communitykids that we can all be proud ofbut their reputation is spoiled by just a few yobs. We must do all that we can to tackle the behaviour of those yobs, but Labour's hands-off, politically correct attitude towards crime and punishment and the failure of tough parental control have created a yob culture in my constituency. I do not want to talk only about the negative side today. I shall take a positive approach instead, as we need that as much as we need tough deterrents. We must give people pathways away from crime and especially from crime driven by addiction to drugs.
I see that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is in his place, as always. He is an assiduous Member of Parliament and he has always emphasised the need to tackle the drug culture by providing rehabilitation places. Although he sits on the Labour Benches, I am pleased to see him. He has fought for that cause consistently for many years, and I congratulate him on his work.
Last weekend, I attended Thundersley Congregational church, where Teen Challenge UK was making a presentation entitled "The Evidence". I wanted to learn from people who do not sit down and grumble about the drugs problem but get up off their backsides and do something about it. I also wanted to learn from people who had left crime and drugs behind so that they could rebuild their lives.
The Government must find better ways to convert peopleand some of them really are the scum of our streetswho, driven by addiction, prey off innocent people and businesses. Such people need to be helped to become decent, tax-paying citizens who give something back to society. We all accept that the Government must find better ways to rescue these addicts, whose every hour of every day is focused on finding money, usually by nefarious means, to get their next hit. However, the solutions will be complex: what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, we need a range of solutions, in a range of areas.
Prison is often part of the problem, rather than the solution, for drug-driven crime, although I accept that it is a very good form of prevention, as it takes users off the street. Teen Challenge UK rescues and redeems the saddest cases, the people who are at the bottom with little hope. It does a fantastic job and succeeds where other remedies have failed. It is less expensive than Home Office rehabilitation residential places. In fact, it raises one third of its money from voluntary contributions, often from Christian organisations, and that is to be welcomed.
Teen Challenge UK has a success rate of 76 per cent. That is remarkable enough in itself, but I am not talking only about people getting off drugs and crime. The organisation's success lies in the fact that it gets people back to work. That means that they pay tax and reconnect with their familiesa very important elementand that they contribute again to society.
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Teen Challenge UK has 80 of the worst addiction-driven criminals waiting for a bed place, and that is just in its centre for men in south Wales. The people who are waiting for those places are sad cases. They are gagging for a chance to get their lives and families back, and simply to be decent again. Some of the men are self-harming and at the very end of their tether. They know that they will commit several crimes every day, which brings innocent people into the equation.
Why on earth, therefore, has Teen Challenge UK's priming funding of £700,000 been withdrawn? Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction, and that is the case here. The organisation's grant was removed essentially because it has Christian roots and is run by Christians. Teen Challenge UK is in no way discriminatory in its work: most of its clients are not Christians and will not become Christians as a result of getting off drugs and out of crime.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, are you thinking what we are thinking? I think that you probably are. It was the Welsh Assembly that decided to remove the grant, and I think that it is bonkers for doing so. I do not know whether "bonkers" constitutes unparliamentary language, but I should be happy to withdraw it and replace it with "insane" or "mad". I would even go so far as to say what all of us thinkthat this is an example of political correctness gone mad. The politically correct approach has been driven to an absurd extreme, to the extent that what is being done is evil in itself. No right-minded person would think it sensible to take away that funding and prevent that very good and cost-effective attempt to address that complicated and difficult problem.
The grant was withdrawn by the Welsh Assembly, on which Labour and the Liberal Democrats must have some influence. The media certainly has some influence and I hope that the matter will be taken up. Teen Challenge UK went to judicial review of the decision and the judge thought that what had happened was outrageous. He found for Teen Challenge UK and the Assembly has agreed to look again at the matter. I encourage every right-minded person to press the Assembly to make a good decision. For the sake of all those sad addicts and for society at large, let us hope that political correctness is dropped and that Teen Challenge UK has its funding replaced, so that it can help hurting people, which is its slogan.
I recommend the organisation's presentation, "The Evidence", and I thank all who work there for taking the trouble to get off their backsides and do something about what is a serious problem for society.
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