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25 July 2006 : Column 791

I was able to prove to the SIA that the receipt that my constituent received did not bear the location, the clamper’s name or the operative’s number. I asked for that to be investigated and the SIA said that it would do so, but would not be able to tell me the outcome. When I queried that, it said that to do so would prejudice its investigation. So I asked it to carry out its investigation and tell me what it had done afterwards. It then wrote back and said that it did not deal with individual complaints. I then asked whether the receipt was valid, and after an extensive correspondence I was able to confirm that the receipt was invalid. But the SIA does not have the authority to intervene in individual cases, such as that of my constituent. Individuals need to know what is legal when a vehicle is clamped and whom to complain to if they think that that has been done illegally by an unregistered clamping organisation, such as North West Clamping, the company in this case.

The third issue that I raise is another serious matter. On 21 December 1994, a constituent of mine, Stephen Cuddy, was murdered in Liverpool city centre by a man who was seriously mentally ill. That person went to prison for manslaughter. On behalf of my constituent Mrs. Cuddy, the mother of the deceased, I have been trying to establish what happened to the person who killed her son. I have established that the man who killed her son was remanded at Kettering magistrates court to Woodhill prison. He appeared in the magistrates court on a number of other occasions, but was released on 21 November 1994. I am trying to establish why that individual appeared in court and what conditions were placed on his release. The clerk to Northamptonshire magistrates courts has told me that I need the authority of either a justice of the peace or the Lord Chancellor to look at the court register, and it must also be established whether I am a fit and proper person to apply for that information.

The most important test on the release of information is whether it relates to an ongoing case. However, I am not discussing an ongoing case, because the manslaughter of Mr. Cuddy has been dealt with by the courts. It is important that Members of Parliament and members of the general public have access to such information, because it is on the public record and was in the public domain when that person appeared in the magistrates court in 1994. I find it inconceivable that anyone would refuse a request from a Member of Parliament to obtain such information. Through the auspices of my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, I want to press the Lord Chancellor, because if the rules prevent hon. Members from accessing court records on matters that have been dealt with in open court, then they need to be changed.

Fourthly, on a much more positive note, my constituency contains Daresbury laboratory, which is currently devising a new piece of experimental kit. That is probably an understatement, because the laboratory is a world-leading research facility, which will take on the next generation of synchrotron radiation research. The massive piece of kit, which is only a prototype, accelerates electrons as close as possible to the speed of light, and the electrons are then peeled off in straight lines to X-ray materials in real time. That is the lay person’s view, although I think
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that the matter is far more complicated than that. The prototype has been built at Daresbury, and we are looking forward to a decision stating that the project is desirable because it will take British science forward, that the money will be made available and that the project will take place at Daresbury laboratory. My hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) and for Halton (Derek Twigg) and I have met Lord Sainsbury to press the case. We hope that this time the decision recognises the world-leading facilities and research at Daresbury laboratory, which is valuable in terms of not only pure science, but intellectual property, patents and other associated matters.

I want to use the final 40 seconds of my speech to pay tribute to my close personal friend, Kevin Hughes, who died last week from motor neurone disease and who was the former hon. Member for Doncaster, North. He was a fabulous friend and great company. He was also an extremely good Whip and had a very good sense of humour, which he kept until the end. When I saw him recently, I said, “Kevin, I see that you are still smoking.” He said, “Mike, lung cancer would be a blessing.” We will miss him greatly—his funeral is tomorrow. I am pleased that I have been able to put my tribute in Hansard to Kevin Hughes, who was a thoroughly decent guy.

4.8 pm

David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Before we rise for the summer recess, I want to say a few words about the ongoing situation in Cumbria.

I want to discuss the dire plight of dairy farmers not only in Cumbria, but across the United Kingdom. In July 2005, a report commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed not only that more dairy farms ceased production between April 2003 and April 2005 than had intended to do so in 2003—the increase was 12.4 per cent.—but that the closures were concentrated among the larger herds and the bigger, more profitable dairy farms. If the most efficient dairy farmers are quitting the business in droves, it shows that things are not right in the dairy industry. More than 10 dairy farms have gone out of business in every week in the past two years. There are now more DEFRA staff than there are dairy farms in England, although DEFRA has still been unable to get the single farm payment out in anything like a respectable time.

This is my key point to the Deputy Leader of the House, who used to be the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs. If all our farmers were to get together—they cannot do this, because they are philosophically incapable of working together—and said, “Let’s sell our milk at 20p a litre”, the Office of Fair Trading would crucify them. When I checked the internet last week, however, Asda was selling milk at 55p a litre, Sainsbury’s was, by coincidence, selling milk at 55p a litre, Tesco was selling milk at 55p a litre and Marks and Spencer was selling milk at 55p a litre. That is a cartel. For the OFT to say that there is no evidence of collusion is simplistic. Of course they do not need to collude—one cuts the price, the others look on the website and they all follow. It is a cartel, it is ruthless, it is grubby, and it needs to be stopped. Farmers are selling milk at 14p a litre or, if they are lucky, 15p, 16p
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or 17p a litre. Someone in the middle is making a huge profit. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee discovered that 18p a litre is going missing somewhere. It has to be looked at and it has to change.

Our economic situation in Cumbria is not good, and I make no apologies for returning to that subject. Economic growth in Cumbria is the slowest of any area in the UK and, indeed, in the whole EU. In those circumstances, we must have EU funding coupled with designation as an assisted area for regional aid purposes. The economy in Cumbria is now as dire as Liverpool’s was when the Government brought in massive intervention to help that city, and rightly so. The Government recently issued a consultation on the content of the national strategic reference framework. I understand that that document will set the priorities of financial allocation for the 2007-2013 structural funds programme. It is vital that it pay proper attention to the needs of areas with low and declining GVA—gross value added—such as Cumbria. It is also vital that when the final draft is published Cumbria should receive a dedicated top slice of the national allocation of regional competitiveness funds. That would not be a precedent for any other county or region of the United Kingdom because no other part of the UK, from the highlands of Scotland to Cornwall to Liverpool, is in as dire a situation as Cumbria.

I hope that the Government can find some sort of special programme for areas such as Cumbria or an increased regional allocation designed to offset the impact of economic decline in such areas. At the same time, we need assisted area designation to allow us to use public funds to invest in the private enterprise that is so vital. I understand that a national consultation is under way on assisted areas, and I say again that the designation must take into account those parts of the UK with low and declining GVA. No other part of the whole of the UK is as poorly off in terms of GVA as we are in Cumbria; in fact, only five other areas in the whole of Europe are as poorly off. We have great economic need that must be targeted. Unless we get that assistance, it will be impossible to arrest the decline in the Cumbrian economy even if our nuclear industry at Sellafield is boosted rather than run down.

Two weeks ago, I got together with all the Conservative group leaders of councils in Cumbria, those that we control and those that we do not. We issued a statement saying that we, as the Conservative representatives for Cumbria, commend Sellafield as a centre for excellence and research and believe that in order to sustain our economy, support local businesses and preserve local employment, we need a new generation of nuclear power stations and cannot allow the reprocessing facility at Sellafield to be decommissioned. We called on the Government to invest in Sellafield and Cumbria’s economy to dispose of all nuclear waste instead of exporting our waste to be processed abroad, which would export local jobs. We said that we are pleased that in 2004 3.1 per cent. of the UK’s electricity supply came from renewable energy, but noted that the Government are highly unlikely to meet their target of 10 per cent. of electricity produced from renewables by 2010. We said that while we believe that renewable energy has an important part to play in our future energy mix, especially biofuels, of which we should produce a lot
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more, renewable energy will not be able to meet our energy needs for the foreseeable future. We concluded by saying that in the interests of the people of Cumbria and of England, we call on the Government fully to support nuclear power to ensure that more investment of all kinds is directed to Cumbria.

Let me say a few words about the continuing saga of our community hospitals. The whole thrust of the recent White Paper, “Our Health, Our Care, Our Say: a new direction for community services”, is to shift care more into community settings and to boost the role of community hospitals. The Government say that £750 million will be available for capital expenditure to develop care in the community. I want specific assurances on the community hospitals that we already have in Cumbria. In particular, I want assurances on some aspects of paragraph 6 of the White Paper. Do the Government accept that there are now no circumstances in which any of our community hospitals should lose their intermediate care beds? In paragraph 6.31 of the White Paper, the Government express the wish that

What will they do to carry it out? What will they do to compel all the hospital trusts to follow the White Paper demands that

Paragraphs 6.38 and 6.39 of the White Paper state among other things that

Paragraph 6.39 sets out the facilities that they should have. Do the Government accept that, in Cumbria, we already have community hospitals, which have 80 to 90 per cent. of what the Government want, according to the White Paper? All the Government have to do is give the community hospitals the funding to continue to meet their day-to-day running costs. Those facilities should not be downgraded because their running costs are not fully met. Without that assurance from the Government, the next paragraph is worthless.

Paragraph 6.42 states:

My concern about the plan is that the Government have £750 million and that they will spend it on new hospitals in the cities. The rural areas have the hospitals but we will not get money to run them. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can reassure me that that is not the case.

4.15 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Tempted though I am to try to counter the arguments of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) about nuclear energy, I want to consider another matter.

Last Friday, The Independent printed one of its iconic front pages. On the left were the flags of 189 countries that supported the United Nations call for a ceasefire in the middle east and on the right was a large white space with only three dots of colour—Israel, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
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That is not where I want my country to be—isolated, tied to a US Administration run by neocons and headed by a religious zealot.

I have no quarrel with the American or Israeli people but I do not share their leaders’ views of the world and I know that my constituents do not, as they frequently tell me. We must have a good working relationship with the US, as other European countries do. However, it is time to acknowledge the contradictions between fulfilling our wider international goals and responsibilities and trying to stay on side with George Bush.

In so many ways, the Government have been a beacon of progressive thinking. We have a proud record in peacekeeping and democracy-building. We have been generous in response to disasters. We have worked hard to make the World Bank more accountable and we have done much to bring about reform of the United Nations. We have led the world on climate change, debt relief and poverty alleviation. We even pushed the EU into adopting better terms for the development round of the World Trade Organisation talks.

All those and more are great British initiatives—British policies of which we are justly proud. However, are they reflected in the special relationship? They are not. The Kyoto treaty was concluded on terms that were believed to suit the Americans but they steadfastly refused to adopt it. They have consistently undermined the UN, and this week they collapsed the WTO talks.

We have failed to make the special relationship work for us. It might not matter so much if we had not paid such a high price in supporting the United States military action in Iraq. In doing that, we began the separation from the world community that has become so stark in recent days.

Let me be clear. I am no pacifist and I had no problems with military action in Afghanistan. Defeating the Taliban and rooting out al-Qaeda was in everyone’s interest. If it were not for the folly of Iraq, I believe that we would have made greater progress in that tragic country. Instead we have exacerbated the conditions in which terrorism flourishes. We all know that it is impossible to end terrorism in the middle east if there is no justice for the Palestinians. Only the US has the power to bring about that solution. Perhaps if we had joined the rest of the world last week in condemning Israel’s disproportionate use of force, an isolated US might have taken action sooner. There are few tragedies as sad as Lebanon’s. After years of civil war, Lebanon had achieved a fledgling democracy, and elected government and an infrastructure largely rebuilt by international funds. It now lies in ruins, and support for Hezbollah, which is responsible for recklessly starting this conflict, has probably increased. This ought to give us cause to reflect on our role in the world, and particularly on our contribution to fighting terrorism and its causes.

In a single decade, our world has changed so rapidly and violently that we need a completely new approach. As I said at the beginning of my speech, our Government have led so much of the progressive agenda. So often, however, we adopt contradictory positions. The recently announced proposal to replace Trident represents just such a contradiction. The UK has worked really hard to keep the non-proliferation treaty alive and to find a diplomatic route to containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
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In Trident, we have maintained an awesome nuclear capability, but we have made it clear that, following the end of the cold war, the weapons are no longer targeted.

The non-proliferation treaty was designed to outlaw nuclear weapons, not to endorse them. Without any progress on nuclear disarmament, there can be no intellectual or moral argument against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any other state. Someone has to break this logjam, and Britain is well placed to do that by forgoing a replacement for Trident.

The deterrence theory that underpins our continued possession of nuclear weapons has long been found wanting. Those weapons did not deter Argentina in the Falklands, or today’s terrorist attacks on Israel. Neither has their mutual possession deterred war between India and Pakistan. On the contrary, all talk in the US now is of bunker-busting nukes and weapons designed not to deter but to fight and wage war. How can we possibly justify spending £20 billion on a weapons system for which we cannot even define a use? Our global enemies are failed states, terrorism, climate change, and the poverty and religious divides that fuel conflict. Nuclear weapons can play no part in meeting such challenges.

An Adjournment debate at the end of a difficult Session such as this is a good place to ask what kind of country we want to be. Robin Cook, writing in The Guardian in 2004, said that

How we miss Robin Cook!

In this country, we have an extraordinary wealth of talent, entrepreneurship, rights and freedoms. We have a great history, and the greatest riches in our arts and cultural life. We have the most diverse capital city in the world. This is why we won the Olympic bid. It is time to choose not to be a country defined by its special relationship and its nuclear weapons, but to be one whose international status rests on an intellectual and moral authority exercised within the rule of law.

4.23 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I, too, wish to refer to the community hospitals in my constituency: Tonbridge hospital and Edenbridge hospital. The two hospitals have a similar past and, sadly, a similar present. Both were founded after the first world war as a result of private benefactions and donations and taken into the national health service under the National Health Service Act 1946. Since then, they have both attracted huge amounts of additional financial support from the private sector, running to hundreds of thousands of pounds from private donations and the wonderful activities of their leagues of friends. Both hospitals provide outstanding nursing care and levels of treatment. And yet both hospitals, under the orders of the South West Kent primary care trust, have half their beds taken out of use. The future of both hospitals is at present clouded in uncertainty.

That situation arises not because of any local failure by the South West Kent primary care trust, but because of a disastrous decision taken by the Secretary of State. We face not a local, individual, constituency crisis for
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community hospitals, but a national one. If ever there were a clear demonstration of that, it was in this House on 28 March, when, I understand, there was the largest ever simultaneous presentation of petitions by 21 right hon. and hon. Members, involving 45 separate community hospitals the length and breadth of the country, from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) down to Kent and the east and west. It is a national crisis, which has been occasioned by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State took, in my view, a reckless decision to give absolute priority to one single political target—achieving the 18-week waiting time for acute hospitals, regardless of the consequences elsewhere. To achieve that, she introduced Payment by Results, the new acute hospitals tariff, on 1 April 2005. The desirable consequence of that was a great deal of additional activity in acute hospitals, with waiting times coming down. Regrettably, however, the Secretary of State failed to accompany an improved tariff for acute hospitals with proper revenue arrangements for community hospitals. As a consequence, a significant switch of resources away from community hospitals to the acute sector has taken place.

In my constituency, the South West Kent primary care trust estimates that the consequence of the Secretary of State’s introduction of Payment by Results for the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Acute Hospitals Trust is a transfer of approximately £2 billion a year from the community sector to the acute sector. Predictably, primary care trusts across the country have gone from the black into the red. By virtue of being in deficit, their community hospitals are under threat. The Secretary of State’s announcement of the £750 million of capital will not improve the situation at all. It is capital that will be hard-contested by all Members with community hospitals in their constituencies. The first bids, for the first tranche of £150 million, go in by 30 September, and I suspect that the total bids will be way in excess of that figure. That does not deal with the revenue crisis facing community hospitals.

There are only two routes to solving that crisis. Either the Secretary of State must introduce a proper tariff for community hospitals, or she must extend Payment by Results to cover the community hospital sector. Sadly, it seems that she is setting her face against both of those obvious solutions. The written answer that I received from the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), on 17 July, stated:

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