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The Prime Minister: Nothing would please me more than to make my hon. Friend happy and satisfied, but we will have to wait for the Queen’s Speech and the outline of the Bills it contains. However, my hon. Friend is right to emphasise the priority that we attach to the climate change issue. It is why we introduced the climate change levy, which is saving millions of tonnes of carbon a year, and it is why it is important that we work with the EU and other countries. Last week in Mexico we made real progress on a framework for when the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. It is also why we announced recently a five-fold increase in renewable
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energies. An immense amount is happening here and I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to take the issue very seriously, but I am afraid that she will have to wait for the Queen’s Speech to see whether her satisfaction is complete.

Q10. [92530] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): This week, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade have been returned to Colchester garrision after their dangerous deployment in Afghanistan. I am sure that the House will salute their courage and send its best wishes for recovery to those who have been injured and its condolences to the families of those who lost their lives serving their country—Captain James Phillippson, Private Damien Jackson, Captain Alex Eida, Private Andrew Cutts, Corporal Bryan Budd and Corporal Mark Wright. Will the Prime Minister confirm that UK troops are in Afghanistan to help rid the world of terrorism? If that is the case, does he share my dismay that the majority of EU and NATO countries have not deployed their troops to Helmand province?

The Prime Minister: First, I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the Paras and the extraordinary work that they have done in Afghanistan. It is hard for anyone to imagine the trial that they have been through or the courage with which they have met it. It is also very clear from what is happening in Helmand province that they have been successful in pushing the Taliban back. The struggle is by no means over, but it is essential that we continue with it.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that it is important that all members of NATO should play their part. However, to be fair, Canadian and American soldiers in the area are also losing their lives, and Spain, Italy, France and Germany have all lost troops there. I was with the Finnish Prime Minister last week and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that even the relatively small contingent from Finland has lost troops there.

The situation is very difficult. We want to make sure that NATO does more, and that is what the Defence Secretary said at the meeting the other day. It is important that we all make it clear why our troops are in Afghanistan. The country was used as a training ground for al-Qaeda. It was from there that terrorism was exported and the 11 September attacks—in which more British lives were lost than in any other terrorist incident—were launched. If we allow Helmand province or any other parts of Afghanistan to return to the grip of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they will yet again become a training ground for terrorism. That is why the work that our Paras did was not only immensely brave but immensely necessary.

Sometimes it is important that we do not merely support our troops in the obvious way by saluting their courage, but that we also have pride in the success of the work that they are doing. It is absolutely vital, for our security and for that of the whole world. We should be extremely grateful that we have men and women in our armed forces who are prepared to risk their lives and make that sacrifice.

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Scrambler Bikes (Licensing)

12.33 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I beg to move,

Mr. Speaker: Order. Will hon. Members please leave the Chamber quietly?

Chris Bryant: I do not know whether you, Mr. Speaker, have ever ridden a motorbike. The closest that I ever got was when I hired a Vespa on holiday in Greece. I think that I was the only person in that country to wear a helmet, and I certainly rode considerably more slowly than any Greek person did—even the octogenarian grandmothers carrying 15 chickens on the back of their bikes. However, I know that many bikers derive enormous pleasure from their motorbikes. They describe the sense of excitement and the adrenalin rush in almost ecstatic terms, saying that only a biker truly knows why a dog sticks its head out of a car window.

I want to do nothing to undermine bikers’ sense of enjoyment and excitement, least of all in the Rhondda and the valleys. I know that many bikers come to the valleys because it is an enormously exciting and pleasurable place to go biking. For example, one can go over the Bwlch into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), or over the Rhigos, or over into Llanwonno—wherever one goes, there are beautiful places for biking. It is easier if one is on a motorbike rather than a pedal bike, as I know to my cost.

Part of the thrill of biking is the sense of danger that is attached to it. It is true that in this country two-wheel drivers are 40 times more likely to suffer a serious injury or to die than four-wheel drivers. Some 585 motorcyclists were killed and 6,063 were seriously injured in road accidents in 2004. Motorcyclists represent only 1 per cent. of the traffic in the UK, but 19 per cent. of the deaths and serious injuries. The more we can do to enhance safety and to make sure, for instance, that drivers in their cars look out for motorbikes when they turn on to a main road, the better.

However, my Bill has nothing to do with those licensed road users. It is about the thousands of unlicensed vehicles, many of them supposedly designed to be ridden off-road. The problem is pretty simple. The law makes it clear that if a bike is driven on the road, it must be registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, taxed and insured, and have a standard number plate, proper brakes, audible warning instruments, brake lights and indicators. The exhaust must also conform and—this is important—must not be too loud or altered in any way. In addition, the law states that the rider must hold a driving licence for that class of vehicle and must wear an approved protective helmet. Furthermore, if the bike is used at night, it must comply with lighting regulations and have lights fitted and working.

I am sure that all Members would agree that all that is fine and dandy, but, by definition, it applies only to vehicles designed for use on the road, when they are on
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the road. There is a whole other category of bikes that are not licensed because they are, in theory, designed to be used only off-road. That is where the problem begins. Every evening and every weekend in the Rhondda there are literally thousands of unlicensed, uninsured scrambler and mini-motorbikes on the road. I suspect that the Rhondda is not unique in that and that all hon. Members have experience of that phenomenon.

In theory, those bikes are only to be used on private land. In practice, they are driven over public land, bridleways and paths, private land without permission and, notably, on the road. Often, they are unsafe vehicles with poor tread and unreliable brakes because they do not have to go through an MOT. Often, they are driven by children—not only under the legal age, but sometimes as young as eight, nine, 10 and 11. Often, they are driven recklessly and dangerously, and as they are often driven by children, it is difficult to expect more. Often, they ruin areas of natural beauty, digging up beautiful areas of the countryside. Often, they are fitted with so-called silencers, which actually make the vehicles louder rather than quieter—something that the industry must work on. In every instance, by definition, they are not insured, so when there is an accident, the innocent party often not only has the problem of the crash, but has to face increased insurance premiums later in the year.

For people in the Rhondda, that means a deafening racket reverberating around the valleys nearly every evening and every weekend. It means that pavements and roads—especially, for some bizarre reason in cul-de-sacs—become virtual race tracks. All too often, it means that a 10 or 11-year-old is put in charge of a lethal weapon that can go up to 60 mph. I believe that that is simply wrong. One person e-mailed me yesterday to say:

The situation is getting worse. According to Revenue and Customs, there has been a twentyfold increase in the number of Chinese-imported mini-motorcycles coming into the UK. The number rocketed from 7,000 in 2001 to 144,000 in 2005, the last year for which figures are available. No wonder that, in Reading, 44 per cent. of all calls to the council’s antisocial behaviour hotline are to do with mini-motorbikes and the noise that they create. No wonder that Kent police received 4,000 calls about them last year alone. No wonder people complain about the problem at every single PACT meeting in the Rhondda, or that my local chief superintendent, Jeff Farrar, says:

The police have tried all sorts of things. They have tried stopping all the vehicles at the areas where they regularly congregate and arresting the riders in one fell swoop. They have tried providing information about what is legal and illegal. They have tried using new on-the-spot fines legislation, which has been successful, and impounding vehicles. However, their biggest difficulty is that they are hamstrung when they see someone driving a bike illegally. They cannot give chase, because if they did and a youngster came off the bike and was injured, it would be quite likely that the
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police officer involved would be suspended pending an investigation. Additionally, such a chase would of course be dangerous to the general public.

The main problem is that the police cannot identify the bikes because they do not have licence plates. That is why I believe that we should license all bikes, regardless of whether they are designed to be driven on the road. The relevant legislation is section 1(1) of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, which says:

The provision should be amended so that it covers not just on-road vehicles, but all off-road vehicles.

Who supports the proposal? The British Motorcyclists’ Federation does, with its 130,000 members, as does the Trail Riders Fellowship. The Greater Manchester police authority supports it—I am sure that many hon. Members’ police authorities do—and has been calling for such a scheme for a while, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright), not least because a friend of his was knocked down on a piece of open land by an unlicensed, unidentifiable bike that drove off. The fact that the bike had no number plate meant that it could not be tracked and justice has thus not been done. Licensing is not the only thing that we should do. I have mentioned the noisy silencers, and it must be time that either the industry acts to make biking quiet, or the Government take action to ensure that everyone can enjoy their right to a peaceful existence.

We must accept that many local authorities have been slow to make proper legal provision for bikers. As one constituent wrote today:

I agree. Proper, well-designed tracks in areas where noise will not impinge on the local population are vital if we are to win the battle. Biking is a great sport—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the chairman of the party agrees—but the illegal use of scrambler and mini-motorcycles is bringing biking into disrepute. It is time that we abolished the false distinction in law between on-road and supposedly off-road biking.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Chris Bryant, Jessica Morden, Philip Davies, Anne Snelgrove, Ms Barbara Keeley, Rosie Cooper, Mrs. Madeleine Moon, David Wright, Mr. Iain Wright and Mr. Tom Watson.

Scrambler Bikes (Licensing)

Chris Bryant accordingly presented a Bill to require scrambler bikes to be licensed; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 223].

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Opposition Day

[18th Allotted Day]

NHS Workforce and Service Development

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business: the 18th allotted Opposition day, which is a debate on NHS work force and service development. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.44 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

The purpose of this debate is straightforward. The NHS is, in a real sense, its staff. The number and quality of health care professionals in the NHS is key to the quality of health care provided, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House share a deep gratitude to doctors, nurses, therapists, scientists and health care professionals of all types across the NHS for their tremendous work. Improving the number of NHS staff is central to improving services.

Under the Conservative Government, the number of doctors increased by 23,000 and the number of nurses by 55,000. Under the present Government, according to the work force census, there are 33,368 more doctors, contrary to what the Government amendment says. There are 85,305 more qualified nurses and midwives than in 1997. The number of administrators has, of course, increased by 107,000. Under Labour, not only have the resources been badly used—according to the Office for National Statistics, productivity has fallen by 1 per cent. a year during the life of this Government—but now deficits are hitting those very staff. We know, and have debated, the scale of the deficits—today’s debate is not primarily about that subject—and the Secretary of State has had to admit not only that the deficit last year was £1.3 billion gross, but that it was higher than she had previously estimated. It is now £547 million net.

Those deficits across the country are directly impacting on services. Decisions being made for short-term financial expediency have a direct impact on those staff. It is on that issue that we want to focus today—the impact on the staff of the NHS and, by extension, on the services that they provide, of the mismanagement of finances across the NHS.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): There is one Opposition policy of which we are aware—their wish,
11 Oct 2006 : Column 305
as they say, to share the proceeds of growth between investment in public services and tax cuts. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how much money will be removed from the NHS budget as a result?

Mr. Lansley: The answer is straightforward: no money would be removed from the NHS. On the contrary, what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said means that the NHS will be able to participate in the enhanced economic growth that will be the product of our economic policies, and so can deliver more resources for the NHS in the future. I know that it depresses Labour Members that the Leader of the Opposition has frequently said that he will give priority to the NHS and has expressed his determination not only to increase its resources but to give it freedom from day-to-day political interference. We have said all of those things, and the public agree with them. The hon. Gentleman has to understand that we are putting that forward not on the basis of political advantage, but because it is in the interests of the national health service.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that, despite all the cuts that he claims will be made, staff will be safe and no jobs will be lost under a Conservative Government?

Mr. Lansley: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. He will forgive me if I am wrong, but I think that his local hospital is part of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. Is that right? [Hon. Members: “Tooting.”] I beg his pardon. I will give way to him again if he cares to tell us how he thinks that the deficits at St. George’s hospital, Tooting, will be resolved other than by giving the NHS, including hospitals such as St. George’s, much greater freedom to enable them to use resources more effectively. Frankly, under this Government, that is not happening. Hospitals such as St. George’s are living under a regime of regulation and control, and the financial imposition of costs by the Secretary of State is causing them enormous damage. Perhaps he can comment on the fact that the Government admit that a 25 per cent. increase in the cost of hospital services in the past three years has eaten up all the money that has been provided to hospitals such as his.

Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman mentioned money at St. George’s. He will be aware of our new walk-in centre and our new Atkinson Morley wing, which is preventing deaths by cancer, and he will also be aware that we have doubled the number of nurses in the past nine years and have 500 more doctors. Can he now answer my question? Will all the staff that might be cut throughout the country because of the devolved powers of their trusts be saved by a Conservative Government?

Mr. Lansley: I cannot, of course, make that promise. How could I make it? If the Secretary of State and the Government would care to call an election tomorrow and disappear—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must calm down and allow the hon. Gentleman to develop his case.

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