|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
Exactly the same situation exists on the A303 in my
constituency. In 2004, I was told that work would start to lay a low-noise surface on the A303 to relieve noise in Wincanton and the villages along the road, such as Holton, Maperton, Compton Pauncefoot and South Cadbury. That has not happened, and there has been no indication from the Highways Agency when it will be done.
Mr. McLoughlin: Assurances were given in the past. Particularly in the summer months, the noise from those roads means that people cannot go out in their gardens or enjoy the countryside in which they have purchased houses.
I first raised the issue of quarrying in the Peak district some 10 years ago, when I was very concerned about Longstone Edge and Backdale quarry. After 10 years, a public inquiry has just taken place. I do not expect the Deputy Leader of the House to comment on that public inquiry. I once asked the Library for a briefing on the subject, and it sent back a note stating that it is a rather complicated matterone can ask the Library for a brief on nuclear weapons or treaties, but if one asks for a brief on Backdale quarry, it states that it is a rather complicated matter. That is an underestimation, and I will not go into all the issues around the quarry application, but I will say that the issue has been ongoing for more than 10 years.
I hope that when the planning inspector reports, whatever he says, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to whom I have written about this, will call in and investigate the whole process. The amount of money that it has cost the Peak park planning board and the quarry operators in legal fees, and the amount of officers time that has been spent, must be incalculable, and it has not been the most effective way of dealing with the matter.
If the planning inspectors decision goes the right way, I should like to think that that might be the end of the line, but I fear that we are still going to have to spend a lot of time on this application, which has been incredibly controversial. After all, we are talking about a national park that is visited each year by millions of people who come to see it and enjoy the activities there. I am joined in that view by the former deputy leader of the Labour party, Lord Hattersley, who lives fairly near to the site.
Another issue that is causing a great deal of anxiety to my constituents is the proposed closure of Stoney Middleton school. We now have a new process for school closures whereby they ultimately go to a school adjudicator. It used to be possible for us, as Members of Parliament, to make representations directly to the Secretary of State before a school was closed, but no longer. Stoney Middleton is a fairly small village but it is on a very busy road on which schoolchildren will have to travel if the school closes. That alone should be a reason to think again. In its motion, the county council considered proposals to discontinue the school. I suppose that that is a new kind of language and that it really means close. Closing the school would take the heart out of the village. I hope that whenever the school adjudicator comes to a final decision, he or she will say that the county councils case has not been made. The school is providing an excellent educational service for its pupils, and it should be allowed to continue to do so.
When I spoke in the Christmas Adjournment debate, I said that I feared that Darley maternity unit would be proposed for closure by the local trust. I am afraid that those fears have come to fruition, so today I shall turn most of my attention to Darley. It is a small unit run by midwives with a wealth of experience. Indeed, my wife was given first-class service when she was there, almost 17 years ago, on the occasion of the birth of our second child, Clare. Having provided that service for people in the north Derbyshire area for a very long time, it is now threatened with closure. That is completely unacceptable.
The community maternity service review has shown the unit would need substantial extra investment to meet the required standard of clinical practice and bring it up to safe staffing levels. This extra equates to more than £300,000 a year.
When I met officials from the trust, together with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), I challenged them on that figure. To say that their response was dismal would be kind. To say that they could not justify it in any way, shape or form would be to underestimate their inability to reply. It was a disgraceful episode. In the 20 years that I have been in the House of Commons, I have never had a meeting with officials that I would class as being so bad. I am still unable to get from them a proper figure for their costs as regards the unit, because every time they are asked a question they come up with a different figure. At the meeting, they started by saying that the unit needed an extra two nurses. I said, Two nurses dont cost £150,000 each, so what is the rest of the money for? After a slight pause, they said that it needed an extra five nurses. That is typical of how it went onit was unbelievable. If trusts are going to make such proposals, they must be told that they need to be honest and open with the people they are dealing with.
At Chesterfield for my first baby, I had an appalling birth; no consistency of care, the consultant in and out of the room giving instructions to various midwives without consulting me. I felt totally disempowered I was stitched afterwards by a junior doctor who did not even introduce himself. I had to wait on a trolley for an hour after the birth, unable to move or control my bladder because of my epidural. An auxiliary mopped up my urine without speaking to me. It was like Victorian times. The next day, I was transferred to Darley. I received empathy, support, and debriefing, explaining why my delivery had been so difficult. When I became pregnant again, I booked in to Darley. I can not fault the care I received during labour. I felt supported throughout. Unfortunately, in the final stages, the baby was stuck and I was transferred to Chesterfield in an ambulance. However, the midwife from Darley came with me, held my hand, reassured me. I still felt in control, because I was part of the decision to transfer me. I can never thank the midwives at Darley enoughthey saved my sanity. Surely this unit should be a flag ship.
The late Professor Brian Williams was tragically killed just 10 days ago in an awful accident where he was again, as so often, helping the community. He was a professional social researcher and a lecturer at
De Montfort university. At an earlier stage, when the trust first came out with its consultation document, he explained that the trust questionnaires broke all the rules that he set down for his students on preparing such documents, because asking such closed questions produces biased results. He said of the questionnaire in the back of the document that is being circulated by the trust:
The only way for people who do not agree with the perspective presented in the report to express their views is to ignore or delete the closed questions and write answers in one of the boxesbut people tend not to do that, they tend to get irritated and discard the questionnaire. This, of course, would further bias the responses received.
Just to help the issue along, and before we have the new communications allowance, I produced my own document, which I circulated to my constituents urging them to ensure that they have their say before the final decision is taken on 20 April. I very much hope, even at this late stage, that we get a change of heart from the trust and that the Department of Health investigates the way in which the whole exercise has been gone about.
When people see and hear the Prime Minister telling us how much extra money and resources have gone into making the health service better, as we do every week at the Dispatch Box, they wonder why we are losing the services that we have enjoyed over many years. It does not look that way, even if we want to take the Prime Minister at his word. I find that difficult to do when I consider what is happening to the Darley maternity unit. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can respond to that.
Given that the Deputy Leader of the House attended a meeting with me a few weeks ago at Ripley, where we met David Coleman, the chief constable of Derbyshire police, I want to consider police funding and the new formula that the Government have introduced. I am not asking for extra money but for the formula to be distributed in the way in which the Government originally intended. The hon. Gentleman, along with me and other east midlands Members, heard a first-class, impressive presentation. Thankfully, we got rid of the disastrous plan to merge all the police forces in the east midlands, but the presentation described the way in which the forces work together effectively on serious and organised crime. We were taken through the financing and I do not want that element of the polices work throughout the east midlands to be put in danger. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House does not want that and I hope that he can examine that matter, too.
Todays debate is an important opportunity for colleagues to put on record some of the things that are going wrong in their constituencies or matters about which constituents are concerned. I have not picked all the issues from my constituency but I have chosen some of the most important. They are causing anxiety and I hope that the Government will tackle them.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), who became a Member
of Parliament when I did 20 years ago. He spoke with enormous passion about several key issues that concerned his constituents. I am glad that he did not raise them all; otherwise the whole Adjournment debate would have concentrated on West Derbyshire. However, I hope that he is successful in his campaign to keep his local maternity unit open. I ask him to take the Prime Minister at his word, because I have the same problems in my constituency. There has been massive investment, but those who deliver on the front line need to be careful about the way in which they use public money and they need to be accountable. I hope that he gets satisfaction from his local health trust and that the wonderful maternity unit that gave us his daughter, Clare, and others will remain open.
I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) on his reappointment as a Minister. He has returned to the post that he held six years ago and I gather from the Opposition Chief Whip that we get him at a discount because of his long service. When my hon. Friend occupied the position previously, he always listened carefully to the views of Back Benchers. I have watched him in the past 15 years or so take up issues of concern to his constituency, and one of the iconic television pictures of the 1992 elections was of my hon. Friend dancingit looked like banghra dancingat his count on gaining the previously Conservative seat. I do not say that he has been dancing ever since, but I am sure that he did a little jig on his reappointment this week. I wish him well in his role as Deputy Leader of the House.
On police co-operation, my hon. Friend represents a constituency in Nottinghamshire, the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire represents a constituency in Derbyshire and I represent a constituency in Leicestershire. We did not need police reorganisation for the police forces of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire to co-operate. Unfortunately, I missed the meeting to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but I know that that co-operation is important.
I want to raise two main matters. It is the first time I have participated in the Easter Adjournment debate for some time. I have been unlucky in the ballots so far and have not been able to find parliamentary time to discuss the two issues. I hope that my hon. Friend will give me a positive response and that we get some movement from the Government on both matters.
The first relates to my constituent, Rafiq Gorji, whose case I have raised on several occasions in business questions. He is a widower with three children. Like more than 50,000 British citizens, he went on the pilgrimage to Saudia Arabia to perform his Hajj in December last year. He was on a coach with his wife, Zenab Ali, on the Madinah-Makkah highway near Dubaiyah when it overturned. It hit a central reservation and Mrs. Ali died at the scene of the crash. Mr. Gorji suffered severe burns to his hands and back. Two other British nationals died in the coach crash and many more were injured.
I have met my constituent on several occasions and seen the burns on his body. They remain visible even though the crash happened a few months ago. The crucial point that he makes is that the coach driver was extremely tired. He had been driving for more than
18 hours before the crash. He had been swerving the coach when he was driving Mr. Gorji and his wife, and the coach passengers urged him to stop. They offered him refreshments and asked him to rest because they feared that, if he continued on the journey, the coach would crash. That is exactly what happened.
The crash highlights the problem that many British Muslims, some of whom live in my constituency, suffer when they go on the Hajj to Saudi Arabia. The Leader of the House set up the Hajj Committee when he was Foreign Secretary and my noble Friend Lord Patel of Blackburn chairs it. It does a great job, but it cannot control the activities of the Saudi Arabian Government. So far, we have been unable to bring to the Saudi Arabian Governments attention with sufficient force an understanding of the problem that continues to occur with those who drive my constituents and those of other hon. Members in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj has to be performed there because the holy places are there.
Rafiq Gorji eloquently made the point to me and the Saudi Arabian authorities that the people who are employed by Saudi Arabia to drive the coaches do not necessarily come from that country. Many come from Libya and Syria. They are not paid a huge amount of money for the task and they are made to work for many hours to get that money. That is why they continue to drive even when they are tired.
The incident was perfectly preventable and that makes it especially sad. Had the man not driven, had he stopped and rested, Mrs. Ali would be alive today and the three children who are still grieving for their mother would have a mother, Mr. Gorji would have a wife and the family would be content.
Mr. Gorji made many complaints to the Ministry of Hajj, which is responsible for licensing the coaches and the drivers, but it has been reticent and reluctant to give us any information. It was months before Mr. Gorji received a copy of his wifes death certificate. All her personal effects have been lost, including her copy of the Koran. To this day, we have still not received a copy of the police report.
I telephoned Sherard Cowper-Coles, our very good ambassador in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh and asked him to intervene personally in the case. I want to place on record my appreciation and that of my constituent for the work of Sherard Cowper-Coles, the consulate general in Makkah, and all the other people involved there. The embassy has been absolutely terrific.
We could not go any further, so I did what I normally do when dealing with a foreign Government, which was to make an appointment to see the Saudi Arabian ambassador, the prince who has recently taken over the role here in the United Kingdom. He was unavailable, so I met the deputy ambassador. I took my constituent with me, and I said that we wanted a police report because my constituent could not make progress unless he knew exactly what had happened.
I was a friendly Member of ParliamentI was born in the middle east, I chair the Yemen group and I am a friend of the Arab communityasking a friendly Government in a friendly way for a simple document. I would have thought that that document would be easy to produce, yet I was told that I had to go back to the British embassy and speak to my ambassador, who
would then ring the Ministry of Hajj, and that we would then get the police report. No sympathy was offered to my constituent at that stage. So we did that, and we received the response from our man in Riyadh that this was really the responsibility of the Saudi Arabian Government.
In normal circumstances, one might seek to raise such an issue with a Member of Parliament, but as we know, the political situation in Saudi Arabia is slightly different. Approaching the Government was therefore perhaps the best way to get a response. They are, after all, a friendly Government. We have heard the Leader of the House, the Solicitor-General and the Foreign Secretary tell us from the Dispatch Box what a good friend Saudi Arabia is, what a close personal relationship we have with it, and how it is our ally in the region. I would have thought, therefore, that if a British citizen asked for a police report, it would be a simple thing to obtain. To this day, however, we have still not received it, so my constituent cannot take the issue forward.
I have raised the matter twice with the Leader of the House, whom I admire for his great skills and his ability to deal with Back-Bench Members of Parliament. He always came back to me very quickly whenever I raised issues with him when he was Foreign Secretary. He promised to raise this matter with the Foreign Secretary, who would presumably raise it with her Minister of State, who would then raise it with the Saudi Arabians. It is only a matter of a police report, after all. We did the Saudi Arabian Government a great favour recently when we stopped the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office on the ground that it was not in the public interest. I would have thought that it was in the public interest for information such as the police report on this incident to be given to a British citizen.
I was subsequently contacted by the parliamentary liaison officer at the Saudi Arabian embassy, Prince Sultannot the Prince Sultan, but another official called Prince Sultanwho was actually very helpful. He came to see me at the House and told me that he felt that I was right, and that this was a simple thing to ask for. He said that he would go back to his Government and try to arrange it. Four weeks after meeting him, however, absolutely nothing has happened.
Why should a Member of Parliament have to raise this matter constantly in the House of Commons? It concerns a British citizen whose wife has died. Why am I not getting a response from the British Government? Of course, in the end, the matter is the responsibility of the Saudi Arabian Government, but they are on good terms with us. I expect to see action from the British Government in support of a British citizen. I can give my hon. Friend the Minister many examples of British citizens abroad being helped. I remember when a number of nurses were being held in Saudi Arabia. The case attracted massive publicity and our Government moved heaven and earth to assist them. Why have the Government not taken a similar course of action in this case?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|