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26 July 2007 : Column 1143

Andrew Mackinlay: I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because it would not be fair to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and I am your friend—or to others who wish to speak.

The hon. Gentleman might also wish to intervene on the final issue that I wish to raise, which relates to the welfare of our ex-servicemen and women. I have one particular constituent, Dennis Dimond, who is a former leader of the Conservative group on Thurrock borough council and a former officer of the Essex regiment, whom I consult regularly about such matters. We are especially exercised about those people who have left our armed forces, some of them many years ago and who are now in the evening of their lives and becoming fragile. They are not getting everything that they are entitled to and I invite the Deputy Leader of the House to ask ministerial colleagues to prepare, over the parliamentary recess, a comprehensive statement of care available for ex-service personnel, perhaps through a White Paper, Green Paper or other formal statement. In that way, we could take stock of the care available for our ex-service personnel. I am especially concerned about people who are wounded or suffer trauma, or both, in the current conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places in which our armed forces are committed—sometimes, of necessity, in a secret manner. Many of us are not satisfied that when they are discharged appropriate care and facilities are available at the time or will be sustained in the long term. Trauma or mental illness can arise much later and we need reassurance that the nation’s commitment to ex-service personnel is comprehensive and that care will be ongoing. We need to understand how we as Members can assist and counsel such people, working with veterans organisations.

This morning, I received a letter from a parliamentary colleague, Eddie Lowey, a member of the Legislative Council of the Isle of Man. He has no access to this place, but on behalf of his constituents he wanted me to raise the case of an Isle of Man resident who served on Christmas Island between 1958 and 1959 and was involved in the atomic tests. A further 10 residents of the Isle of Man are in the same category, as are many of our constituents who served on Christmas Island at the same time. There is growing and compelling evidence that they were adversely affected by the atomic testing. Members who are listening to me will share the view that when the Ministry of Defence says, “Oh, it’s really not a problem and we’re monitoring it”, that is not good enough. We heard the same thing about Gulf war syndrome.

I asked the Library to do some work on the subject, and my attention was drawn to a parliamentary question diligently raised by our colleague, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), on 12 July. He asked the Ministry of Defence to comment on the EU directive Euratom 96/29. The gentleman in the Isle of Man says that the directive requires the UK to have a national register of all persons who may have been exposed to ionizing radiation in the past, especially in relation to atomic weapons experiments in the 1950s. He notes that the directive states that such people should be independently examined for genetic damage by the calculation of the number of aberrant cells shown by translocation within their chromosomes, that cytogenetic assays, such as the eBand or mFish may be
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carried out by molecular geneticists and that there should be ongoing screening. Many former servicemen feel that their immune systems were irreparably damaged by exposure all those years ago.

In reply to our colleague, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, the Minister said that the directive was not “legally binding”. Well, whether it is or not there is a moral obligation and although the Minister acknowledged that the Government recognise their obligations to such veterans, he went on to make the worrying statement that they had found

We have heard such denials all too often in the past. It is not good enough, so I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will tell the Ministry of Defence that over the coming months Members will increasingly demand that the issues are addressed on behalf of the people who suffered as a result of those experiments in the 1950s. A remedy should be found soon, rather than having a big row in the House of Commons in the future.

5.14 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I thought that he was going to wind up a little earlier and I was thinking that I might follow your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and rush over and embrace him, but he took all his time so I will not, you will be glad to know. I want to raise two issues concerning my constituency. As I am a Gloucestershire Member, the House will not be surprised to hear that I shall be raising the issue of flooding. I shall also raise the issue of ambulance cover.

I undertook a comprehensive tour of my constituency on Monday and Tuesday, and unfortunately I found that the flooding there was far more widespread than I had anticipated. I am keen to stress that, despite the high-profile news coverage of Tewkesbury and Gloucester, my constituency suffered quite considerably as well, to the tune of several hundred houses being flooded.

Perhaps I might acquaint the House with some of what I discovered on Monday and Tuesday. I started my tour at a small village near Lechlade in the south-west of my constituency, and I drove through rather a deeper flood than I should perhaps have done. I donned my wellies, rushed into a house—the water immediately went over the top of my wellies—and found a poor person whose furniture and carpets had been ruined. I then went on to Fairford, and even more dismayingly I found a road of houses that were under 2 ft of a mixture of sewage and water. The main bridge in Fairford had fractured and the main road was closed.

I went on to Bourton-on-the-Water—wryly called by one resident Bourton-under-the-water—and found, as many people may be able to picture Bourton-under-the-water, the picturesque village, the rivers, the bridges, the greens and the high street entirely under water, which had spilled over into many shops and houses.

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Perhaps the biggest shock was when I went on to Moreton-in-Marsh, where I found that 250 people had been evacuated last Friday night to the fire college, their homes having been rendered unfit for habitation. I discovered that more than half the shops had been flooded, many of the houses near the station had been flooded, and many of the hostelries will not be open for many months.

I went on to the pretty town of Chipping Campden, where the Cambrook had burst its banks and many houses had been flooded. Likewise in Northleach the main culvert under the main high street had closed, and there a problem re-occurred that I had heard about in several other places. A road had been flooded and HGVs and cars trying to get through the flood, driving far too fast, were causing bow waves and causing even worse flooding into the houses—until a public-spirited local resident put his car across the road, effectively closing it. Even the main road into my own village was washed away.

Repairing the infrastructure will be expensive and time-consuming, and because it is spread over a very large area of the Cotswolds it will be expensive. I therefore issue this plea to the county council: that we in the Cotswolds should get our fair share of funding. I know that the high-profile cases of Tewkesbury and Gloucester will cause vast strain on both the county council’s and the Government’s budgets, but we are going to need some resources in the Cotswolds, not only to restore the infrastructure but to pay for emergency things such as the simple provision of Portaloos, sandbags and pumping equipment. There will need to be a substantial clean-up. I pay great tribute to the Cotswold district council for immediately swinging into action and providing a free collection service for ruined furniture and carpets. That was hugely appreciated by people on the ground.

Some of the flooding had been caused by the Environment Agency’s policy of clearing out watercourses only on a biennial basis, on the grounds that to do so encourages biodiversity. That will need to be looked at again rigorously, because if it causes any possibility of flooding homes it is totally wrong.

I have mentioned the problem of sewer flooding. I had had a problem of sewer flooding in various places in the Cotswolds before this general flooding of water. Fortunately, I was able to persuade one of my two water companies, Thames Water, to advance a £5 million sewerage scheme in South Cerney, which did help this time, but there are many smaller instances of sewer flooding which will need attention. I call on the Deputy Leader of the House to bring the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, because the regulatory regime needs looking at to ensure that water companies have sufficient ability to invest in the infrastructure from their profits.

I should also like to bring to the attention of the House a matter about which I received another e-mail from a constituent this morning. The flooding of the Mythe waterworks, which was raised in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, resulted in the cutting off of the fresh water supply to 340,000 people, which is being attended to by the provision of bowsers. It was
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widely advertised on BBC Radio Gloucester and on the website that a bowser would be available for the villagers of Birdlip in my constituency. There is, or was, no such bowser in that village. The villages have no fresh water and no bowser from which to get it. I urge Severn Trent Water urgently to attend to the matter.

Like many other Members of the House, I cannot express high enough praise for the emergency services, particularly the fire service, that worked throughout Friday night to pump out a vast number of houses. The community spirit that I found when I was going round on Monday and Tuesday was absolutely tremendous, but the problem is that that community spirit will give way in some cases to depression when the true extent of the damage sinks in. I urge all the social services and other support services to be in place when that happens.

The second issue that I would like to raise is the provision of ambulance cover in my constituency. The chief executive of the newly merged Great Western Ambulance Service NHS trust said to me in a letter of 4 July that

Ambulances are being taken away from rural areas and are being put into towns. In fact, that has already caused the loss of one life.

As it has been in the press, I would like to bring to the attention of the House the tragic case of a young lady, Rebecca Wedd. She was hit by a car just outside Cirencester, but the ambulance service took 45 minutes to attend to her. The incident was totally unacceptable and it occurred not in a rural village but near the Royal Agricultural college just outside Cirencester, which is the largest town in my constituency.

I will run over the facts of this particular case. The only ambulance available in Cirencester was not available that evening, because the entire crew had reported sick. At the beginning of the evening, there were five crews in Staverton and, when the ambulance service knew that no ambulance was available in Cirencester, I would have thought that it would have immediately deployed one of those crews to cover Cirencester, particularly when an event with 700 people was taking place there. There had been a serious incident at Tetbury further south in my constituency and three ambulances attended that. The Wiltshire air ambulance was also deployed, but it was delayed and did not reach the scene on time. However, most tragically, an ambulance was available in Swindon, a mere 15 miles down the dual carriageway, and the most shocking fact of all is revealed in a letter from the chief executive of the trust. He wrote:

A young lady tragically died because of that, and ongoing investigations are being carried out to discover what happened.

Sadly, that is not the only case. On 23 January this year, Evan Bailey, a 12-year-old boy from Coates, a small village a mere 3 miles from Cirencester, had his first ever asthma attack. Let us all imagine the panic of that small boy and his parents, Christopher and Rosemary, as he underwent that new and frightening
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experience. Mrs. Bailey estimates that the ambulance was called at 10.15, but did not arrive until well over half an hour later at 10.50. He was subsequently moved to Gloucester hospital.

I am aware of those two examples of response times failing to live up to targets, but how many other constituents have had their lives put at risk? Despite assurances from the chief executive of the trust, I am not convinced that trust targets are being met even in the most urban parts of my constituency, let alone in the many far-flung villages, hamlets and farms of the Cotswolds.

I raised the issue of the merger of the Gloucestershire ambulance trusts in Westminster Hall, and I said:

I went on to say:

I take no pleasure at all in saying that that prophecy sadly came true and I ask the ambulance trust to see what it can do to prevent it from ever happening again.

5.24 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I have sat here all afternoon listening to a catalogue of complaints, and I am now going to add to that catalogue. I am sorry that my complaint will be rather shorter than the others, but the sincerity with which I put it before the House and the Deputy Leader of the House—this is my first opportunity to congratulate her on her promotion to the Front Bench—is none the less for the shortness of the time available to me. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) said that she would have to gallop through her 12-minute speech. I can assure her that we do a lot more galloping in Leicestershire than they do in West Yorkshire.

I will do my best to bring to the attention of the House a matter that I have raised on a number of occasions: the noise that emanates from aircraft flying in and out of East Midlands airport and the disturbance it causes. I know that that matter concerns not only my constituents in Harborough, but the constituents of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), who is not in his place at the moment, and other Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Members of Parliament.

The problem arises because East Midlands airport is the United Kingdom’s freight hub. There are other airports—in particular, Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow—that attract more traffic. However, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are at least what is called designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. [ Interruption. ] I am talking about the favourite subject of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. He is about to come into the Chamber, and I am sure that when he does he will listen with great intent. Those three airports are designated under the 1982 Act, which
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means that the Secretary of State for Transport can control the numbers of flights that go in and out of them, particularly at night, between the hours of 11 and 7. There is no such control available to the Secretary of State in the case of East Midlands airport. On a number of occasions, Ministers have been asked to take on that responsibility, and, on every occasion, for one reason or another, they have refused to do so.

I have been told by the various aviation Ministers, who have followed one another almost as quickly as the aircraft coming into East Midlands airport, that there is no need for designation: everything is absolutely hunky-dory; the airport is controlling the noise; it is doing what it can to make sure that the aircraft flown by the aircraft companies obey the rules in relation to noise; and there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Ministers also say that it is entirely a matter for the airport, or for the Civil Aviation Authority. If one goes to the Civil Aviation Authority, it says that it is entirely a matter for the airport or the Government. If one goes to the airport, it says that it is entirely a matter for the Government or the Civil Aviation Authority. So, round and round we go. The last excuse I had was: “It’s a matter of international agreement now. It’s all dealt with by the European Union and, unless we can get some form of international treaty, establishing some form of control of aircraft noise, there’s very little we can do.” I am afraid that that will not do at all.

To be fair to the airport—and I am not always fair to it—it has introduced a system of fines and penalties, or surcharges, on aircraft that breach the airport’s private noise levels. Wow—in the last accounting period the airport fined three aircraft, and introduced, I think, eight surcharges, of the thousands of aircraft that come in and out of the airport through the day and night.

The intention is that, under the master plan, by—I think—2012 there will be aircraft coming in and out of that airport every 90 seconds carrying freight from around the world. Of course, freight does not mind when it arrives; air passengers prefer to arrive during more civilised hours of the day. I went to the national air traffic control base at West Drayton just west of London not so very long ago. It is easily forgotten by those who operate that system, and also by the pilots of course, that below the aircraft and all those little dotty lights on the control panel are people—human beings—who want to get a good night’s sleep. They are not getting it because of the noise.

In the few seconds remaining to me, I want to say that the other context in which the whole issue is being played out is a reluctance by airports to allow the debate to continue. They will do anything that they can to suppress debate. I took part in an interview on BBC Radio Leicester last Friday, and I was given the distinct impression that East Midlands airport’s public relations team would rather the interview had not taken place. A public relations officer from the airport was there, ready to take part, but I got the distinct impression that he thought that the interview was wholly unnecessary, and that the issue was best not spoken about.

Let me finish on a point that gives the issue a national focus. Next week, Heathrow airport and its various holding companies are applying to the High Court for an injunction to prevent approximately 5 million Britons
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from doing things that annoy it. The owners of Heathrow will attempt to ban them from the airport, the Piccadilly tube line, parts of the rail network and sections of the M25 and M4. The injunction would ban members and supporters of AirportWatch, an umbrella organisation, from setting foot on named locations in and around London. AirportWatch includes groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Campaign to Protect Rural England; I add in parentheses that the Queen is patron of both those organisations. If she is prevented from getting to Windsor castle for the weekend, I do not suppose that I shall be the first to know.

It strikes me as ridiculous that huge great companies, whether they be Heathrow’s companies, or the Manchester Airport Group, which is owned by 10 local authorities in Manchester, and which wholly owns East Midlands airport, should resort to suppressing debate on a legitimate complaint about aircraft noise. My ability to debate is about to be suppressed, so I shall end my remarks voluntarily before you get to your feet, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I wish that the House and the Government would pay more attention to the damage caused to my constituents by the noise emanating from the airport.

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