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Although we were promised that consultation more than a year ago, nothing has happened. The Secretary of State said to me in a recent letter that the process had stalled. At the same time, a large amount of money is being spent by the Peak District national park on taking all this through various inquiries, with two High Court cases so far and another one planned next year. In fact, this case has been going on for more than 10 years. The amount of public money that has been expended over that period on this one particular site is astronomical, let alone the annoyance felt locally about the determination of the site. Although we have a planning Bill before the House at the moment, it in no way helps in this current situation. The Government seem to want to push forward, understandably in certain cases, to ensure that we get speedier planning determinations. This planning case, which has been going on for more than 10 years already, shows no sign of coming to a conclusion. Therefore, I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that the consultation on that particular area of legislation is brought to a conclusion very quickly.

Another example of where we are still waiting for the Government after they have promised to act is off-road regulations. The whole subject is a nightmare. The latest news from the Green Lanes environment action group is that the enforcement authorities—the police, county councils and national parks—are hindered because they have been expecting the publication of DEFRA’s guidance version 5 for many months. It has not yet emerged. That is another example of where delays in regulations and in the Government deciding the right way forward are costing money and inconveniencing people, with all the associated problems.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I am following the thrust of my right hon. Friend's argument. Is he suggesting that the Government have still to lay regulations before the House? If that is so, the situation is potentially very grave indeed, for, as he will be aware, the Government now do so in two main tranches a year: once shortly after October, and then after April. If he has to wait until after April, it is going to be a very vexing and tedious matter indeed.

Mr. McLoughlin: On the first issue, I am waiting for the Government’s guidance, as opposed to regulations, because guidance helps the authorities to know which line they can take. I am waiting for the consultation to end and to see how the Government will move forward on that difficult planning issue. On the second issue, it is more about the regulations.

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One of the issues that we do not seem to talk about often these days in the House is agriculture. Agriculture is essential in my constituency. As I said, a fair deal of my constituency is covered by the Peak District national park. The problems that the beef and lamb industries face are absolutely phenomenal. In the financial year ending March 2007, the average beef producer lost between £94 and £430 per head, and the average lamb producer lost between 65p and £36 a head. It is far worse for upland farmers. There is a real crisis. Although there are some areas of the industry where it looks like the worst is over and there is some hope, the beef and lamb industries are still facing serious problems.

I cannot remember the last time we had a debate in the House on agriculture. The Government used to provide an Adjournment debate on that subject, but I cannot remember the last occasion when the Government did that. There was an Opposition day debate on the problems faced by the farming community following the outbreak of diseases such as foot and mouth and bluetongue, but we have not had an agriculture debate in the House for some time. I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to consider that as one of the future subjects that we should talk about.

We are fast approaching a situation where everyone will again be notified of their council tax increases. It looks like the Government are saying that they anticipate council tax going up by perhaps 4 per cent. or something similar. It is amazing how the Government are prepared to say that council tax should go up by 4 per cent., yet they set an inflation target of 2 per cent. I wonder why there is such a difference. Why do they allow councils to set their council tax increase 100 per cent. higher than their own inflation target? Many older people in our constituencies only get a 2 per cent. increase in their pension. The fact is that, over the past 10 years in Derbyshire Dales, we have seen council tax increase by 91 per cent. and in Amber Valley we have seen it increase by 87 per cent. That most affects those people on fixed incomes. It is the greatest cause of concern for them. For the Government to accept that council tax rises should be almost double what they anticipate inflation being is not acceptable.

If the Minister cannot today answer the questions that I have raised, particularly on the planning issues—I accept that she has to be briefed on every subject under the sun—I hope that she will take the opportunity to raise them with the Secretary of State, and that I will get a reply in due course.

3.4 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise a couple of matters of particular concern to my constituents, although they have wider implications across south London. If I have time, I will refer to a third matter.

Earlier this year, I secured an Adjournment debate on the future of Network Rail services into London Bridge station following the welcome and long overdue extension of the East London line through my constituency to Crystal Palace and West Croydon. I do not intend to reprise the whole of that debate now, but I will make one point that I made then. The London borough of Lewisham has the highest proportion of residents who work outside the borough of any of the London boroughs. Therefore, the public transport links into and out of Lewisham are crucial to my constituents and others.

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I sought in that debate to get an assurance that current Network Rail services would be augmented by East London line services and that there would be no cut in the current level of service, which is already extremely overcrowded. Although everyone welcomes the extension of the East London line and the extended opportunities that that will give for changes in travel patterns, on many occasions people cannot even get on the trains that go through the stations in my constituency. The frequency does not matter if by the time they get to Honor Oak, for example, they cannot get on the train. I sought a number of assurances, which the Minister was not able to give in full. However, the Minister certainly made some welcome comments.

Since then, the route utilisation study for south London has been concluded. Such studies are taking place throughout the country. I am sure that they are taking place in the constituencies of many Members present. The route utilisation study for south London has been published for consultation. The outline draft is before us. It is necessarily a weighty document: it is well over 200 pages, it is very technical and has numerous charts, graphs and tables. It will form the background not just for the extended East London line in 2010 but for the franchise renewal, which comes up in 2009.

The franchise is currently held by Southern. I do not know whether it will be successful again. I do not even know whether it will tender. I suspect that it will, which will be good news for people in my constituency, because it took over from the late, lamented Connex, which had the franchise taken away from it. Services have improved markedly. As I say, there is huge pressure in my constituency on the rail services going south on the loop line into London Bridge and Victoria stations.

The route utilisation study is not readily comprehensible to those who do not understand how railway timetabling is done. During the Adjournment debate earlier this year, I mentioned a few community groups in my constituency. I pay tribute to them again for the work that they have done in trying to interpret the implications of the options outlined in the study. However, I have concluded that the reasoning in that was at variance with my own and certainly at variance with the various undertakings and assurances that I was given by Network Rail, Southern, Transport for London and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), who is responsible for rail, and his officials. There seems to be concern in the constituency that services into London Bridge station will be reduced from eight trains to six during the rush hour and that loop services between London Bridge and Clapham Junction into Victoria will be abolished.

I was therefore delighted to receive an e-mail from Network Rail. I will read part of it because I would like to get it on the record to reassure my constituents. It says:

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It goes on:

I was very heartened to receive that from Network Rail and obviously my constituents will be pleased as well. However, the proof of the pudding will be when the East London line arrives in 2010.

The utilisation study is out for consultation and should be finalised by March. It then goes to the Office of Rail Regulation and finally to the Department for Transport. I hope that all the bodies involved will process it in exactly the way that Network Rail intends and that the East London line in 2010 will be a genuine and very welcome addition—particularly to someone who has been campaigning for the extension of the East London line for 35 years—to the area and to the people of my constituency.

Another recent consultation, which was published only yesterday, is called “A Picture of Health” and is a joint venture by Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham primary care trusts, with the involvement of West Kent PCT. The study is looking at the acute sector within south-east London and outer west Kent. It has been augmented by Sir George Alberti, head of the national clinical advisory team. It is called, rather mistakenly in my estimation, the outer south-east London study. That is something of a misnomer, because University hospital, Lewisham is certainly not in outer London. However, it seems easier to deal with it in that way, rather than looking to the west and north to St. Thomas’s and King’s.

The great advantage of the variety of proposals that the study makes is that they are clinically led. A number of them—intermediate and hospital-based home services and urgent care centres—make admirable sense and the sooner they are advanced, the better. Many of them are not new and have been suggested for many years. However, the PCT and its predecessors were unable to put a funding framework in place. I hope that urgent progress will be made.

Many of the proposals deserve praise—as the consultation was published only yesterday, this is an early opportunity to make my views known—but some options should be ruled out immediately. Any suggestion to relocate the excellent paediatric facilities at Lewisham—a regional centre offering care of the highest quality—would be a severe mistake. There is no need to do that and, as the phrase has it, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Any suggestion that the accident and emergency facility at Lewisham should be downgraded or modified is completely misplaced. If it were not there, there would
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be nothing between St. Thomas’s, King’s and Farnborough to the south and Woolwich to the east. That is entirely unacceptable and would result in great dislocation. Hardly any of my constituents—hardly anyone in Lewisham—would use Woolwich and Farnborough and the pressure already on St. Thomas’s and King’s would simply be increased. The A and E at Lewisham is regularly busier than at King’s, a hospital with three times the number of beds, and is occasionally busier than St. Thomas’s. It would be an act of utmost folly to downgrade or modify it. I look forward to the consultation and hope that it will be to the benefit of everybody across south London.

Finally, I want to refer to an internet service provider that is failing to provide. Many right hon. and hon. Members will recall Freeserve, which was the dominant provider of internet services. In the end, it was acquired by Wanadoo and then went to Orange. During that time, people kept their e-mail addresses but were provided with services by Wanadoo and then by Orange—until a few months ago. This matter only came to my attention over the weekend.

Orange was taken over by France Telecom. I am sure that this has nothing to do with the fact that it is France Telecom, but surreptitiously and without warning long-established e-mail services are being disconnected. I am not even sure whether the company has the legal right to do that, because, effectively, it is taking people’s information or data and refusing them access to it. One can still send e-mails to the address that Orange has now blocked. People send mail in all good faith, assuming it has got through, but it has not, simply because of the capricious and disgraceful actions of Orange.

I know, as many hon. Members do, that Orange has a sophisticated lobbying organisation. There are many sessions for Members to discuss issues. I have been to a few and Orange is very generous with its hospitality; one can go out on the Terrace at its expense. Orange should take into account the fact that people have a right to be told, if nothing else. People may let Orange put them on to a new contract to screw money out of them—that is what these organisations do—but it is plain stupidity not to tell them what is going on. It should end this reprehensible behaviour as soon as possible.

3.16 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish you and the staff here in Parliament a very happy Christmas—not winterval, winterfest or Xmas, but Christmas? I hope that the Minister will tell her Government colleagues in Departments where there may be a tendency to follow the terms that the politically correct mob would foist on us that this House would like to see Christmas referred to by its proper term and not by these other names. I am sure that those of other religions—in this House and outside—do not take offence at the fact that we use the term Christmas around this time.

I want to raise a matter of great concern to people in Northern Ireland. Much of the time during the past Session was taken up, quite rightly, with the Government proposing legislation and regulations and providing reports on the war against terror. All of us support the Government in their actions. In Afghanistan, Iraq and
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other parts of the world, the Government are conducting their war against terror but, in a most despicable example, they have ignored the state that has been the greatest sponsor of terror with the greatest impact on people in the UK: the state of Libya.

For many years, Libya sent arms to, financed and trained the IRA, which carried out acts of terror not just in Northern Ireland, but here in Great Britain. Many at this Christmas time mourn loved ones and are still living with the loss of limbs and livelihoods as a result of the terrorism sponsored by the Libyan Government over the 1970s, 1980s and into the early 1990s. The IRA campaign of terror could not have been sustained without the support of the Libyan Government.

In 1992, the Chief Constable of the then Royal Ulster Constabulary gave an intelligence estimate of the weaponry that had reached Northern Ireland from Libya. He catalogued it as 6 tonnes of Semtex; 1,500 AK rifles; three heavy machine guns; 500 handguns; 20 SAM missiles; 50 RPG-7 rocket launchers and 10 flamethrowers. Some of that Semtex was used in the most cowardly and dastardly terrorist actions committed during the troubles in Northern Ireland. That Semtex was used in a bomb at the war memorial on the November Remembrance day when 11 people were killed. It was used to blow up a bus near the Ballygawley roundabout in which eight soldiers died. It was used in the attempt to blow up the Cabinet in Downing street in 1991, and it was used in at least 250 booby-trap bombs, many of which led to loss of life and all of which led to the loss of limbs. Many shipments were intercepted. It is estimated that 200 additional tonnes of weaponry were on the three ships—the Claudia, the Marita Anne and the Eskund—which were intercepted on their way from Libya to Ireland.

Libya not only supplied arms; it also supplied finance. That has been borne out by Libyans themselves. The head of the Libyan London section confessed that at least £6 million was made available to the IRA by way of suitcases of money passed to IRA couriers in Tripoli. That money then came back to Ireland, was reinvested in property and businesses in Dublin at a time when property was booming, and made terrorism sustainable—it enabled the apparatus of terrorism to be financed through Libyan money.

The Libyans not only financed terror; they also trained terrorists. In “Bandit Country”, his excellent study of the IRA in south Armagh, Toby Harnden highlighted a number of the godfathers of terrorism in that area who had been trained in Libya and then returned to Northern Ireland to carry out bomb attacks against the security forces and organise the terror campaign that led to many targets here in London being blown up.

It would not have been unreasonable to expect that the Government, who are committed to ensuring that states that sponsor terror pay for their actions, would have had some urgency in making Libya pay for the years of terror it sponsored in the United Kingdom—terror which, as I have said, has had a far greater impact on individuals in this country than that of the Taliban or al-Qaeda or any of the other terrorist groups that the Government are currently pursuing.

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