Previous Section Index Home Page

I said earlier that Syria and Iran will be judged on how they conduct themselves during the crisis. Key players in the middle east are among those who will judge Syria and Iran. We have heard too little about countries such as Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,
20 July 2006 : Column 566
which have broken ranks with the old ways of refusing to criticise the actions of countries that behave in that way. They are extremely concerned about this conflict. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes were right to argue that we should continue to use our great historical network of diplomatic contacts in that region so that we can act in concert to take the heat out of this terrible conflict.

In the few moments that are left, let me turn to the question of the evacuation. It is extraordinarily important. As we speak, some 1,300 people are being evacuated on HMS Bulwark and HMS York. To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), they include families of British nationals who may not be British passport holders. They also include many of our friends from the Commonwealth and Europe. We needed their help when the tsunami took place; the reaction to this terrible disaster is a worldwide one, and we need every ally that we can find in situations such as this.

Dr. Starkey: I have raised with the Minister the case of my constituent Mr. Saleh, who is a Lebanese citizen with a British wife whose main home is here in Britain. He may not be able to be evacuated because he has not been able to get British citizenship. Will my hon. Friend take up his case for me?

Dr. Howells: If my hon. Friend will send me the details, we will certainly take a look at it.

So far, approximately 2,800 people are being evacuated. It is an enormous number. A further evacuation is planned by sea tomorrow. It has been an enormous exercise.

If the events of this last week or so have taught us anything, it ought to have taught us that we must never and can never retreat behind imaginary fortress walls around these islands. The enemies of democracy will always bring the fight to us, wherever and whenever they can. The first duty of any British Government is to defend the lives and liberties of our citizens here and across the world. That is why we must continue to maintain the most professional armed forces in the world and why it is vital that those brave men and women are directed by a democratically elected Government. It is why we must maintain the superb work undertaken in the world’s most difficult areas by our Department for International Development and why we must deploy and use to the best effect the great skills of those who staff our diplomatic missions abroad.

The sight of the Royal Navy’s grey funnels off the coast of Lebanon, whether they were seen directly by those who wished to be evacuated or indirectly on television by their loved ones around the world must have been one of the sweetest sights that they will ever see. All of us must pay enormous tribute to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, which supported it, and to all our armed forces who have taken part and will continue to take part in the operation. I am not sure that people have understood the danger in which they operated off the coast of Lebanon or the danger to the helicopters that flew over Lebanon. This is an extremely difficult situation.

20 July 2006 : Column 567

We are very worried, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, about British citizens who are trapped in difficult areas in the south of Lebanon. We must find ways of getting them out. We are working with our colleagues in Germany, the United Nations and other countries to mount convoys and try to get the agreement of all the parties to the dispute to secure safe passage for those trapped individuals to points of safety. We know that a United Nations ferry is going into Tyre in the south. We hope that we can get many of our citizens and nationals and their relations on to that boat.

The Government will try to live up to the challenge of using the superb professionalism among our armed forces and our diplomatic service to help the United Nations and the international community to bring peace to Lebanon and the wider middle east. That must be the message that goes forward from this debate tonight.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


Harpenden Memorial Hospital

6 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I present a petition signed by 8,713 local residents, including doctors, nurses and other employees who have worked at Harpenden memorial hospital and patients and relatives of patients who have been treated at the hospital, all of whom deplore the proposed closure of beds at the hospital. They say that the relatively small savings achieved by closing the ward are overshadowed by the huge impact on the care provided at the hospital for the most needy, frail, elderly and terminally ill people in the Harpenden area. They say that the closure is a breach of promises made at a public meeting in September 2005 when the people of Harpenden were told by the primary care trust that closing or running down the hospital would be bad for patient care and financially disadvantageous.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Crawley Hospital

6.1 pm

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I present a petition of 32,000 signatures on behalf of 15,000 Crawley residents. The petition was tirelessly organised by Mrs. Rebecca O’Gorman of Crawley and concerns the closure of our accident and emergency department at Crawley hospital, which remains a difficult issue for many of us in Crawley.

20 July 2006 : Column 568

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Asbestos Storage

6.2 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): This petition is similar to one I presented last week, but residents have collected another 200 signatures, which they wanted me to present to the House. I am grateful for this opportunity to do so.

The petition is against asbestos storage on the Manor trading estate, which is an inappropriate site due to its proximity to schools and residential areas. I am grateful to Councillors Jackie Govier, Bill Dick and Colin Riley for their work fighting for their community on the issue.

The petitioners say that the proposal will allow the storage of hazardous asbestos waste, which would introduce unacceptable risk and increased pressure of use of local roads and that it is particularly inappropriate in view of the immediate proximity of residential homes and a primary school. The petitioners further believe that there are much more appropriate sites for that activity in the local area and elsewhere, which would not cause such conflict.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Saltaire Roundabout

6.4 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am delighted to present a petition on behalf of residents of Saltaire and surrounding areas of my constituency about congestion at Saltaire roundabout. The issue is extremely important to my constituency and I have previously raised it in the House with the Secretary of State for Transport. I am delighted to endorse the petition wholeheartedly.

I put on record my thanks to Rachel Adamson who spent a lot of time putting the petition together and collecting signatures. In only a short time, she collected 413 signatures, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of people who are concerned about the issue. The fact that she could collect so many signatures in such a short period shows how important the issue is.

The petition

20 July 2006 : Column 569

To lie upon the Table.

Winchcombe Hospital

6.5 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): This petition, signed by 3,686 people—and growing—which is a large percentage of the population of the area concerned, expresses their objection to the proposed closure of Winchcombe hospital, which is in my constituency. The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

20 July 2006 : Column 570

Drakelow Tunnels (Worcestershire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Jonathan Shaw.]

6.6 pm

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) (Ind): Mr. Deputy Speaker, please may I ask you to pass on my sincere thanks to Mr. Speaker for selecting this debate? I lost the chance to hold it last week, under rather unusual circumstances that completely terrified and floored me at the time. It is also a great pleasure to see the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). Previous clashes between us have been rather confrontational—when he was in the Department of Health—but this debate is friendly, not confrontational. It is a joy to talk about the unique collection of antiquities that happens to be in my patch. This is a matter of great importance to many of my constituents in the north-west corner of my constituency, where Worcestershire borders South Staffordshire—in the villages of Wolverley, Cookley and Caunsall, parts of Kidderminster, and Kinver, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). He is supportive, as is the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin).

I have raised the matter now because I am aware that English Heritage and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have been undertaking a heritage protection review, which I believe will lead to the Government’s heritage White Paper later this year. A letter to me from the deputy secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings ended with this sentence:

That is why I am raising the Drakelow site.

First, there are the tunnels. I am grateful to Paul Stokes for his volume “Drakelow Unearthed”, which I found in the Kidderminster library, which goes into great detail. Drakelow sits at the southern end of a ridge of soft red sandstone in which there are many caves. When Coventry had the tremendous blitz in the second world war, one of the factories making engines for aircraft was bombed out and it was realised that a safe place for making aero engines was needed. Drakelow was picked on because it is so easy to tunnel into the hills. In 1941, 160 ft below the hill top, the tunnels were started, at a cost of £285,000. They were intended to be a safe factory for those people displaced from Coventry.

The factory was in full production by 1943 at a cost of more than £1 million, so even in those days costs went up tremendously. Unbelievably, under the hill there are 3.5 miles of tunnels and 250,000 sq ft of working space. The site became literally a secret underground city. For those who are interested in second world war aircraft, the factory was building radial engines for the Blenheim and Pegasus engines for Sunderlands. Production carried on until those engines were no longer needed. I believe that the factory was
20 July 2006 : Column 571
involved in the production of the first jet engines for Meteors, which some of us will remember with great affection.

Following that, the site was used for storage. It was then transformed and in 1958 it became one of the safe sites for regional government, if regional government had to move out of the main centres. Again, the site catered for approximately 350 people from all Government Departments. A home defence review was undertaken following the change of Government in 1979. The facility was again upgraded, this time at a cost of something like £2 million, and it became a regional government headquarters, rather than a regional seat of government. However, only about a quarter of the site was used. The site was sold off in 1993 and has since been opened for occasional tours. It is privately owned.

The icing on the cake is what is on top of the hill. There is an iron age earthworks. There is a fort on the end of the hill that is protected on three sides by steep cliffs, with earthworks on the fourth side. It is a scheduled ancient monument that dates from 600 BC, so I am told. Next, in historical order, there is a large collection of rock-cut houses. As I said, the hill is made of soft red sandstone that is easy to tunnel into. Caves have been inhabited there since at least 1600. They were enlarged in 1769 and 1770 to accommodate the labourers who were building the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal to connect the black country with the River Severn. They were enlarged yet again in 1850 and this time buildings were added in front. A local iron foundry master built those properties for his workers and made the development look like a Swiss village, with a fascinating little school and everything that was needed.

Edmund Simons, an Oxford scholar, has studied the dwellings. He describes them as

He also describes them as

In “Historic Worcestershire”, W. Salt Brassington described the dwellings as

He waxed quite lyrical as he went on to write:

He wrote that in 1894. He also cited the following quote, although I cannot find its origin:

He continued by writing that in that part of the Severn district people

A monument to Richard Baxter is also in the same area. He was a non-conformist preacher in the 1600s who was described in the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography” as

His well-known memorial, which was raised in 1875, is a landmark in the town of Kidderminster, and it is
20 July 2006 : Column 572
used as a perch by passing pigeons. He has one finger raised to the heavens, and the dedication reads:

Next Section Index Home Page