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Mrs. May: I am always willing to welcome and encourage fathers to participate properly in the bringing up of their children and I sincerely hope that the Virgin Mary has now fully recovered from whatever it was that prevented her from being there. To those who participated in that particular event and to those who will be doing the carol singing in Ribble Valley later this week, I should nevertheless give a warning. Hon. Members may not be aware of it, but under the
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Licensing Act 2003, carol singers require a licence—unless they dress up as morris dancers, which are excluded under that Act—[Interruption.] I suspect that they may well do that naturally in Somerset.

A number of hon. Members spoke about the contrast between what the Government say and what they do. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) raised several issues relating to Northern Ireland, including education, in an impassioned speech. After the general election, the Prime Minister said that he had learned his lesson and would listen to people more in future. Many people in Northern Ireland will be wondering how that fits in with the proposals to abandon grammar schools, which are supported by the majority of the population in Northern Ireland.

The beauty of the Adjournment debate is that it is so varied. When I started listening to it this afternoon, I did not think that I would be educated about the European waste incineration directive and the operation of road-coating product plants. Indeed, I was, courtesy of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David   Taylor). I would certainly commend the hon. Gentleman's speech to anyone who wants to know about those subjects.

The interests of asylum seekers were taken up in two thoughtful speeches. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr.   Caton) spoke about the impact of legislation on the children of asylum seekers, which I know is a matter of concern to several groups that deal with children's issues. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) spoke about asylum seekers in his constituency with his characteristic care, compassion and desire to ensure that people who cannot speak up for themselves have their voices heard when matters need to be raised. He also talked about local authority funding, and his comments will strike a chord with many people both in the House and outside, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who also raised the matter, as well as continuing to champion the cause of his constituents, particularly those who in his view have suffered from injustice. His efforts on their behalf are to be commended, as are the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who continued his valiant fight for better treatment for his constituent Mr. Brian Jago. He rightly pointed out the unfair impact of the postcode lottery in the NHS, and how much people can suffer as a result of delays in decisions by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

The issue of decisions by NICE and the impact that they have on people was also taken up in the final contribution to the debate, by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out the impact that taking away certain drugs, such as Aricept, would have on those with Alzheimer's disease and their carers. I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work done by more than 6 million carers in this country; often unsung, they save the Government something like £57 billion.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East highlighted the paradox of the NHS and some of the   issues involved, which were also clearly set out by   my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark   Pritchard) when he asked where all the money had gone. We might well all ask that question. How can
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the Government claim that all is well in the NHS when trusts have deficits totalling hundreds of millions of pounds and, as at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust, the jobs of doctors and nurses are being cut.

More money is being spent on reorganising strategic   health authorities and primary care trusts. My   hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James   Brokenshire) talked about hospital building, and the empty hospital wards that he has seen in his area. That reminded me of an episode of "Yes, Minister" in which, as hon. Members will remember, the Minister visited a new hospital with hundreds of administrative staff but no patients. When he asked why there were no patients, it was explained that things were a lot easier if there were no patients to deal with. None the less, I hope that in my hon. Friend's constituency the patients will be able to follow on into the new hospital building.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) also raised the subject of the health service. She spoke particularly about problems in mental health, a subject that is all too often forgotten. I pay tribute to her willingness to raise those important issues, which affect far more families than I suspect many would like to admit, and are all too often swept under the carpet.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) raised a number of specific issues concerning Colchester council, including the proposed visual arts centre, which I know from my previous brief has exercised the hon. Gentleman's mind for some time.

It was good to hear from a neighbour of mine, my   hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr.   Wilson), who rightly drew attention to the problems of education in Reading. He also referred to policing in Reading—although I am duty bound to tell him that sadly, improved policing in Reading is often at the expense of policing in my constituency, notably in villages such as Wargrave, Charvil and Twyford.

There is always, I have to say, a frisson of uncertainty in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) rises to speak. Today he charmed us by telling us about his exchange of letters with his young constituent. He rightly reminded us of the importance of families and children at Christmas—a point echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, who raised valid concerns about maternity services, in particular the pressures on midwifery.

In view of the increase in the incidence of diabetes across the country, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was right to raise an issue of growing importance to a growing number of people—the treatment of those with insulin-dependent diabetes in the driving licence system. There is a need to address that problem and to give more attention to a proper risk assessment of the individuals concerned.

Finally, I turn to what in my view were the two most powerful speeches in today's debate: those by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning). My right hon. Friend gave a masterly speech and I must say that he needs no lessons from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in that regard. While we have valued the time spent by my
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right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border as Opposition Chief Whip, his required silence in that post has been a loss to this House. His impassioned plea for the rural communities in Cumbria will have struck home to many in this House.

My right hon. Friend made a particularly valuable point when he said how easy it is for the Government to be bewitched by the superficial image of areas such as the Lake district, and to avoid or fail to see the real needs of Cumbria. I find it incomprehensible that this Government—a Labour Government—seem to have no real regional policy other than to create layers of regional bureaucracy, be it for the police, the fire service or the health service. Far from being based on regeneration, their regional policy is based, as my right hon. Friend said, on sucking jobs, services and funding away from counties such as Cumbria, and from others mentioned today such as Devon and Shropshire. The paradox of their position is that while they suck resources away from areas in the north, the south-west and elsewhere, they are forcing greater and greater development into parts of the south-east that do not want it.

That lack of a real regional policy and lack of concern for rural areas was echoed in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who defended not only her constituency but the whole of Devon. She reminded us that in their early days in 1997, this Government constantly talked of fairness and justice, yet there is no fairness and justice in their treatment of many regions of this country, and of rural areas in particular.

I want to finish by rising to the challenge that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley set to indulge in the true spirit of Christmas. I have been thinking—I   hope Members will forgive me—of the parliamentary and political equivalent of a well-known Christmas song. But have no fear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not sing it. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] I once tried to sing something while standing next to my hon. Friend, but my efforts were paltry compared with his fine Welsh voice. Here we go, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, 12 Lords a-leaping, 11 Clerks a-clerking, 10 Whips a-whipping, nine Hansard writers writing, eight times six Labour MPs rebelling, £7 billion in lost rebate, six failed Government reforms, five Cabinet rows, four Lib Dem leadership candidates, three ministerial scalps, two broken Blair-Brown deals and the Prime Minister up a gum tree.

I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Mr. Speaker, all Members of this House and all the staff and Officers who serve it so well a very, very merry Christmas.

6.43 pm

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