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Members have touched on Iraq, and it would be wrong of me not to mention the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, which is a new regiment. Unfortunately, the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment was merged with the King’s Regiment and the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, so the QLR has now become the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. The second battalion is serving
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in Iraq, and I wish them well for Christmas. They are putting their lives at risk, along with all our other people serving in such places overseas—be it the Royal Army Medical Corps or the Royal Marines. Indeed, I had the privilege of meeting the latter through the armed forces parliamentary scheme. They are risking their lives on the basis of decisions taken in this House, and I wish them all well for Christmas. They go beyond what we ask of them, and their capability is secondto none. However, we must recognise that troop overstretch is an issue; there is a question mark over how much they can deliver. This is a real problem, and we must recognise that, if they are short of equipment, it should not be lacking. If they need more, we should meet their requirements. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister recognises the importance of the role that our troops play overseas.

Chorley and Royal Preston hospitals are great hospitals that serve the people in our area well. I do not shy away from the fact that it was a Conservative Government who decided to spend money on a new hospital in Chorley; it is important that we recognise that. It has been a tremendous facility for the people of Chorley, and this Labour Government have built on that by providing huge amounts of funding, which is good to see. We now have a dialysis unit and a renal centre of excellence, from which home renal services can be provided. Many other services have been added to the Chorley site, which is a great facility, working alongside the Royal Preston hospital.

However, all that has been put at risk. We now have clinical assessment, treatment and support centres, as they are known, which can refer people to independent treatment centres. Of course, bringing down waiting lists makes sense, but I do not like the idea of taking work out of hospitals, because doing so will put them at risk. We must recognise that training is done within the health service and in those hospitals. The training of our future doctors, consultants and nurses will not take place if those hospitals do not exist. We cannot take the basics away from hospitals, because people have to be trained in the basics before becoming specialists. The problem with these independent treatment centres is that, through their use, we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

If these centres are to be guaranteed 60 per cent. of such work, and if general practitioners are going to be instructed that everybody must be referred to the private sector, there will not be a national health service and there will be no hospitals left such as Chorley and Royal Preston, which are doing an excellent job. Yes, I recognise that the private sector has a role to play, but it ought not to be taking work away from hospitals, thereby reducing their future training capability. There is a big question mark over that, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of what I have said. I notice that he is scribbling quickly. We should not shy away from that issue. I believe that we have got it wrong and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is listening, because we need to review our policy and ensure that our hospitals are safe under this Government. I will campaign to ensure that nothing is taken away from Chorley hospital and that it has a strong future. I am sure that Ministers will listen and ensure that that hospital has a bright and rosy future.

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4.5 pm

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), who always makes a wide-ranging contribution to our debates. I join him in his tribute to the late Lord Carter, whom I found to be a courteous and thoroughly decent man to deal with when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords during the difficult time of Lords reform. I send my condolences to his family given the news that we have heard today.

The hon. Gentleman spoke with passion about the issues affecting rural communities and I join him in expressing some of the sentiments of those rural communities, because the issues affect communities represented by Conservative Members as much as they do Labour ones.

In the spirit of the occasion, I also wish to extend a hand of friendship to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) who, alas, is not in his place. He made reference to being bundled with Norwich, so I extend an invitation to him and his delightful wife, whom I know extremely well, to come and sample the pleasures of Norfolk, so that when he next mentions that great county in this House he is better informed. If that invitation could be passed on to the hon. Gentleman, I would be most grateful.

Nothing evokes the spirit of Christmas more than the music of the season. As well as the traditional carols and hymns, there are more contemporary songs that have become as much of a Christmas tradition as mince pies and Christmas trees. In many cases, the voices that bring us the songs are as unique and important as the lyrics themselves. Who could forget Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, Nat King Cole singing

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Sing it!

Mr. Fraser: No, no. Who could forget, either, Judy Garland’s extraordinary rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? However, had those songs been issued in the UK, the vocal artists would long since have ceased to receive any royalties for their efforts.

One could argue that none of those artists lived long enough to benefit from a copyright term in excess of50 years, or indeed, needed the money that an extension would bring. Perhaps more recent examples of songs that are not yet out of copyright might be more appropriate, such as “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”, which—as we all remember—was a terrific hit for Wizzard, a pop group that otherwise had limited success. I shall not sing that one either. Why should they not receive remuneration for their efforts after the passage of an arbitrary term of50 years after publication?

An extension of the copyright term would not, as some have argued, simply make rich artists richer. For every Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney, there are a host of less well known singers, so-called one-hit wonders and backing singers for whom the revenue derived from their copyright royalties is essential. People buy records at this time of year for the singers. Why should those who have had enduring success not receive adequate remuneration for their efforts?

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Artists such as Dame Vera Lynn, whose songs have endured the test of time, are also deeply affected. Should not she, and others like her, at least for the course of their natural lives, be entitled to benefit from their talent and phenomenal success? Why should others grow rich from the sound of their singing while they are left with nothing? Because of an EU decree, British vocal artists are not entitled to the same protection as those producing similar material elsewhere in the world or those in other creative industries. They even cease to enjoy the fruits of their labour long before the protection given to composers—currently set at life plus 70 years—expires. I submit that the creative talent that gives us some of our best-loved music, and the voices that are synonymous with the songs that they sing, are as unique as the lyrics and tunes of those songs. They deserve equitable protection under the law.

So let us spare a thought for those artists at this time of year. I urge the Government and the Minister to support the campaign “Fair Play for Musicians”, whose petition I have here. It is supported by 3,500 record companies—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am loth to intervene on the hon. Gentleman’s lyrical remarks, but visual aids are not encouraged in the Chamber, as the Official Report cannot really report them.

Mr. Fraser: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I say, without lifting the petition again— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Even though it is nearly Christmas, if the hon. Gentleman does lift it again, that may seriously prejudice the length of his remarks.

Mr. Fraser: It may also prejudice any repeat performance—although I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the petition got stuck on my finger when I responded to your advice just now.

However, the petition has been signed by 3,500 record companies and 40,000 performers. If a few of the performers in this House could support it, many more people around the world would benefit from the wonderful music of our great artists. They would also be assured that their future was secure, because they would be getting the royalties that they deserve.

4.11 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): In this important debate, I want to concentrate on the role of communities in international development programmes. My recent experience in that regard has had a profound effect on me and on my constituents.

In November 2003, I travelled to Sierra Leone as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, at the behest of Win Griffiths, who was then MP for Bridgend. He said that it was absolutely vital to have a woman in the delegation, because there had been so many problems with the development of women in Sierra Leone. At the time, I knew nothing about the country, but I agreed to go—probably one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

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Sierra Leone is the second most deprived country in the world, as became evident to us as soon as we arrived. Most of us are accustomed to airports that are well lit and reasonably equipped, so Lungi airport is quite an education. One is entirely focused on ensuring that one still has one’s bags on leaving, but that is understandable in a country where 90 per cent. unemployment means that everyone is seeking any opportunity to make money. Moreover, that figure hides the fact that nearly 100 per cent. of young people are unemployed, which may explain why the country found itself in the grip of a civil war, with rebels in control for 13 years.

Many of those who fought in the war were child soldiers, who saw the war as a ready source of income. Who knows what any of us would do when there is no money to be had anywhere? Finally, Sierra Leone took advantage of its colonial past and called on the British Government to help bring that terrible war to an end.

In this debate, much time has been spent talking about the British Army’s intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is present in at least 120 locations around the world and it undertakes all sorts of different roles. If I were able to take hon. Members to Sierra Leone today, everyone in that country would want to express their thanks, from the bottom of their hearts, for the work that the British Army did in bringing that terrible civil war to an end. They are immensely grateful, given the unique nature of the conflict that they endured. Apart from bringing the war to an end in 2002, the British Government set up a special court with the American Government. It is now taking testimony and has ordered the arrest of eight of the worst perpetrators of war crimes in Sierra Leone. Six of them are currently being held there.

Hon. Members may be aware of an individual called Charles Taylor, a notorious man who perpetrated the most appalling abuses. He was given sanctuary in Nigeria, but when the new President was introduced in Liberia last year, her first request, much to her credit, was to ask Nigeria to return Charles Taylor to be tried in a special court. There was a small problem in Nigeria when he escaped, but he was captured on the border and subsequently brought back to Sierra Leone. When the helicopter carrying Charles Taylor was circling over Freetown, people were crying in the streets.

The nature of the war crimes that Charles Taylor committed is unprecedented in the view of the advisers to the special court, who have knowledge of the trials in Nuremberg and elsewhere in Europe, and in Rwanda. It goes beyond my imagination and the words that I possess to describe the type of torture that the people of Sierra Leone have been exposed to as a result of the fighting rebel factions. Taylor’s penchant was skinning people alive. He was not unique in that. There was much work done in amputating people’s limbs. The common question asked was, “Do you want long trousers or short trousers. Would you like long sleeves or short sleeves?” When we remember that most of the people involved in the war were children under 12, it is an horrific experience not just for them but for humanity that in this day and age such activity is still undertaken.

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So I found my visit to Sierra Leone debilitating. I understood quite well how little effort by our Army could bring about a revolutionary change in people’s lives. The country has been rescued from a terrible civil war, but it is now economically moribund. It was originally designated one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but with assistance from the British Government procedures are being put in place to allow the finances of the Sierra Leone Parliament to be more transparent. That is vital if the country is to benefit from third-world debt relief. At present it is not the beneficiary of debt relief and it needs to be. It needs currency to develop its services and facilities for its people.

As I said, Sierra Leone is economically almost moribund so it depends on aid agencies and Governments such as ours to intervene. However, we all know here that aid agencies and Governments come and go. As others have said today, the organisations that stay for ever are voluntary. They are groups of people who get together for common purpose and do not recognise political cycles or budgets. They do it because they believe that they have a role to play and they are passionate about the interest of a particular group.

When I came back from Sierra Leone, I went to my constituency and asked whether it would be possible for us to twin with a town in Sierra Leone called Waterloo. I have a Waterloo in my constituency. The general consensus was yes; that we would like to do this. I took home films and photographs and everyone was moved by what they saw. I represent by and large an affluent constituency. When constituencies were giving in response to the tsunami, mine was one of the biggest providers per head in the country.

I am immensely proud that I represent a Liverpool constituency, as we are known for our philanthropy and our charitable giving. It was no surprise to find that my constituents had given a great deal. Quite frankly, many of them want to give more than money, as they want to give of themselves, so how do we release the need to give? How do the Government harness that great desire to give of self? Most people know that money is transient, but friendships endure. Many of my constituents wanted to give of themselves, go to Sierra Leone and actually help.

That sounds absolutely great in principle and we would all commend people who did that, but, in reality, it is immensely difficult, particularly in respect of countries like Sierra Leone that are either in a conflict or post-conflict. I am immensely proud of the people I represent because they had the courage to go to a country that had just come out of a civil war—some tanks were still running round the streets—and they felt that they had a role to play.

Our first visit would not have been possible without the support of our high commission and the British Council. High commissions and the British Council in different countries do a great job generally, but they are not normally used to dealing with voluntary groups. They are more used to dealing with businesses and schools, but not with groups of people who want to come and do good. I shall expand on that comment later.

Members of my community wanted to twin all our schools, all our churches and faith groups, our Scouts and our Brownies, and they wanted to send business
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people over to Sierra Leone. More importantly, they wanted to underpin the relationship with a 20-year commitment, as they wanted to tell the people of Sierra Leone that they would not be involved only for the short term. The Government have already agreed that they have to stay in Sierra Leone until 2012. Quite frankly, they need to be there. Anyone familiar with this particular region of west Africa will know that Sierra Leone is flanked by Liberia on one side, Côte d’Ivoire on the other and Guinea to the north—all very unstable countries, all at a tipping point almost all of the time. Getting one country stable and keeping it stable is therefore very important in that region. I am delighted that the Government have made it clear that they are going to stay there: they need to; if they withdraw, further problems will quickly arise in that area of the world.

Following our first visit, I took with me four members of our community, who came back and made the commitments that I have just outlined to the House. We decided that we had to make all that a reality and we had to work with a number of agencies to deliver a programme of twinning. The British Council has a fantastic scheme for facilitating links between British schools and schools all over the world. If hon. Members are not aware of it, I encourage them to have a look at it and advertise it in their constituency’s schools.

My constituency has a population of 99.8 per cent. white people. This scheme has meant that, for the first time, we have been able to partner with people from an entirely different culture, which is immensely important to us. It is a fantastic privilege for us to have developed an association with a country in another part of the world and to learn at first hand about that community’s experiences. The first programme of learning between our two schools will concentrate on conflict prevention. Conflict is an issue that many people in Liverpool will know intimately through relationships in Ireland, but they will find it immensely beneficial to have the opportunity to work with and learn from a country that is just coming out of a conflict process.

The school twinning programme starts in great earnest next February when I take 10 teachers from my constituency on their first ever visit to Africa. They are going to Sierra Leone. I am very nervous about that because I just do not know how I will explain the absence of water in four-star hotels, or the absence of food or roads, or the sewage flowing through the streets, or the fact that the mortality rate of the under-fives is the highest in the world. It will be a great shock for them. However, they are trail-blazers for many other people in my community.

Next year, we will take out a group of engineers, because the people of Waterloo in Sierra Leone have said that they want a library and my engineering colleagues have said, “Yes, we’re interested in that. We will go and help build a library in Sierra Leone.” We did not know when we agreed to do so that it would be the biggest library in Africa, but it will be and it will contain 100,000 books.

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