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The right hon. Member for Maidenhead and many other hon. Members raised the issue of how membership of European Standing Committees is decided. It may help hon. Members if I provided a little more detail. Our proposal is for European Standing Committees to include people from the European Scrutiny Committee, from the Select Committee and other hon. Members who volunteer, which will provide both more expertise and more continuitynot just continuity between the scrutiny process and the European Committee process, but more continuity with respect to subject. As I tried to explain earlier, when we asked the Vote Office to provide hon. Members with papers on a continuing and ongoing basis by subject, we found that there were 12 such subjects. I believe that going for an ad hoc approach
will, in fact, enable more continuity through the ad hoc Committees than was possible under the old permanent system where Committees were covering three, four or five different Departments. Our objective is to involve as many Members as possible so that, whatever their political interests, they can pursue them in respect of decisions taken at the European level, as well as at the national level. We need to get away from the situation where Europe is regarded as another country and where some Members specialise in it to the exclusion of the vast majority of other Members.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead also spoke to amendment (e), which relates to the European Scrutiny Committee having the power to conduct its work in public. As other hon. Members suggested in the debate, there are some genuine issues about how best to give effect to that proposal. The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire set out the position in principle, but my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) spoke from experience about how that could or should operate in practice.
The Government are committed to enabling the arrangements to work in the way proposed by the Modernisation Committee in 2005. If the right hon. Member for Maidenhead is content to withdraw her amendment, we will discuss with the Opposition spokesmen and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk how best to proceed. We will then present the House with a precise proposal to allow the European Scrutiny Committee to meet in public when discussing which documents are important and should be debated further, which will allow that important process to take placewhen appropriatewith the transparency that hon. Members seek.
The right hon. Ladys amendment does not require the motion tabled in the House to be the one agreed by the Committee, which was her intention. It also makes a debate mandatory. I understood that she wanted it merely to be an option.
Simon Hughes: I understand the point about the openness of the debate on which documents should be subjected to one process rather than the other, but will the hon. Lady address the wider question of whether the Committee should be presumed to meet in public unless it decides to meet in secret to discuss any matter before it?
Helen Goodman: The point that I was trying to make, obviously without success, is that there are issues of principle on which there is cross-party agreement that, whenever possible, things should be done in a way that is transparent to the public. However, a number of practical issues have been raised this afternoon. We are not satisfied that the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead deals with all the practical difficulties that we face, and we would therefore be pleased if she withdrew it. We would then be prepared to enter into discussions on how best to proceed, so that we can come up with a resolution that can be agreed throughout the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Michael Connarty: I may be crucified, but I doubt that I shall be right honourable.
Helen Goodman: I was about to embark on a paean of praise. Obviously I got ahead of myself. My hon. Friend does an excellent job, as does the whole European Scrutiny Committeein an extremely thorough way, and on extremely difficult territoryand we are all very grateful to him. As I said earlier, we are prepared to accept his amendment (a) to ensure that our proposals are reviewed again at the end of the year.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey made a typically thoughtful speech. I hope he accepts that some of the seeds that he planted have flowered. He asked why the Government had not considered in more detail the possibility of a Joint Committee with the House of Lords. Obviously we have thought about that, and obviously the system in the House of Lords is very well respected, but the truth is that the Lords and Commons systems complement each other extremely well. Although Members of the House of Commons are often criticised for their inadequacies in relation to European matters, the Government believe that if we organise the work properly, that unfavourable comparison will be seen to be totally unfair.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) spoke from long experience as a member of a European Standing Committee as well as the European Scrutiny Committee. I hope that what I have said about the composition of the Committees will deal with his concerns.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) spoke from his deep interest in this matter. He suggested that the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee should be a Member of Her Majestys Opposition. We can rule that out absolutely at present because the Committee is in the safe hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire also gave a principled exposition of his views.
We have had a thorough debate. I hope that we can come to an agreement and that the motion will be supported. I commend it to the House.
Amendment made: (a), in line 1, leave out
for the remainder of the current Parliament
until 1st January 2009. [Michael Connarty.]
Amendment made (e): in line 63, at end add
(9A) The Committee, and every such sub-committee, shall sit in public unless it determines otherwise in relation to a particular meeting or part thereof... [Mrs. May.]
Main Question, as amended, agreed to.
Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab):
I wish to present a petition on behalf of many residents and constituents in Newport who are concerned about the proposed closure of Christchurch Road post office. It is a busy and profitable branch, which plays a vital role in the local community and its closure would be
contrary to the aims of the Post Office Ltd network change programme as there is no easy access to nearby services on foot and no public transport links to nearby branches, and businesses that use the service because it is accessible will, as there is no alternative, take their custom to banks. The large turnout for a public meeting held last week demonstrates the strength of local public feeling about the closure. The petitioners therefore request that this House urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to save this vital post office.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[ The Petition of the sub-postmaster and supporters of Christchurch Road Post Office in Newport,
Declares that Christchurch Road Post Office continues to play a vital role in the local community by providing essential and convenient services; that to shut a profitable and busy Post Office is contrary to the proposed goal of the Post Office Ltd's network change programme; that the route to the alternative Post Office means walking down a very steep hill; which would have a detrimental effect on customers who are elderly or disabled who would be unable to access other Post Office services.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to save this vital Post Office.
And the Petitioners remain, etc. ]
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I have great pleasure in submitting a petition on the post office closures in North Yorkshire, with particular reference to the Linton on Ouse Post Office Action Group. This petition is timely as tomorrow the announcement is expected on the result of the consultation on the post office network. I regret to have to say that it has been a flawed consultation. I understand that the changes to the network are going to proceed as planned. No consultation has been allowed on the principle of closures and it appears that the consultation has no regard to the responses received. No account has been taken of the rurality factor, particularly in rural areas such as North Yorkshire. Apparently, one post office will close, and a number of outreach solutions are being proposed. The petitioners of Linton on Ouse do not accept that an outreach solutiona man in a vanis a substitute for a proper, fully serviced post office. The post office is the hub of the local rural community. It is especially important in rural areas for the vulnerable, the elderly, the less mobile and those with young families. It therefore gives me pleasure to submit the petition to the House.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[ The Humble Petition of Mr Derrick Jauncey of Save Linton on Ouse Post Office Action Group and others of like disposition,
That they fear the proposed Post Office Network review will result in unacceptable numbers of Post Office closures. They wish to see their access to Post Offices across North Yorkshire to remain as wide as is currently the case and that there be no further cuts in postal services. They recognise that their Post Offices provide a vital service in a rural community to the most vulnerable, the elderly, the less mobile, and those with young families.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Government to reverse the Post Offices proposed Network Change Programme.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c. ]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. [Mr. David.]
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I thank the Speakers Office for generously finding time for this debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), is answering this debate. His constituency is to the north of mine, and together they make up the county borough of Bridgend. Sadly, the national media often confuse the county borough, the town and my parliamentary constituency of Bridgend, joining them into a single metropolis death town of many problems. Throughout this debate I shall use Bridgend to denote the county borough, which covers both constituencies.
If ever a debate had cross-departmental consequences, it is this one on the nature of suicide. Some responsibilities and questions lie with the Wales Office, but others lie with the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Home Office. I should therefore like to take the opportunity to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who has responsibility for mental health, the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who has responsibility for criminal justice, all of whom have agreed to meet me to discuss this issue.
I want to start by putting into perspective the numbers committing suicide. The UKs suicide rate pales in comparison with those of Canada, Australia and Ireland, whose figures are more than double the UK figure. Many European countries have much higher figures than the UK. Bridgend has featured heavily in the local, national and international media as the suicide town, as the home of a suicide cult and as death town. As I hope to show, the suicide problem lies not in the high number of deaths in Bridgend but in the high number of deaths in Wales. I therefore welcome the presence of my Welsh colleagues in this debate.
Four years ago, I began noticing a cluster of suicides of young males. It reached a peak in 2006 when 17 young people in the Bridgend constituency and four in Ogmore took their own livesthat makes a total of 21 in Bridgend. As the press has highlighted many times in recent weeks, a similar number of suicides occurred last year.
I knew some of the young men who died. I had talked to one days before his death about an apprenticeship that he was taking up. I had met others through our excellent Youth Enterprise, Lifelong Learning, Opportunities for WorkYELLOWproject. It was set up by Hafod housing to work with homeless young people, many of whom had drug and alcohol problems, all of whom had chaotic lives that YELLOW helped to stabilise and then move forward into being successful lives. Some people claim that there is nothing one can do to prevent suicide, as one cannot see it coming, but they are wrongmuch can be done, and it needs doing urgently in Wales.
Bridgend county borough moved from being the 113th worst local authority area on this issue in the period 1991 to 1997 to the 48th worst in the period 1998 to 2004. Yet these deaths kept comingon average, two a month locally, but across Wales a shocking 21 a month occurred in 2006. The Bridgend coroner, Philip Walters, has said he believes that there are possibly more, as there have also been 40 deaths in Bridgend with open verdicts since 2006.
People ask me why, and what is going wrong locally. They want to pin the problem down to one cause. The media have asked whether the cause is the internet, Bebo, Facebook or other networking sites. The answer is yes and no. I believe there is a risk from spending too much time in the alternative reality of computer games and chat rooms. There are risks to young people who give out intimate personal details in cyberspace thinking that they are safe. I also believe that for a vulnerable person who is contemplating suicide, the isolation of communication through words on a screen does not provide the warmth, humanity, compassion and empathy of talking to another person.
I know that for some people e-mail can allow emotions to be articulated and shared in a way they would find difficult in person. The Samaritans have successfully operated an e-mail communication link that allows young men, in particular, to do that. I urge anyone who is unable to talk but who wants to use e-mail to communicate emotional distress to e-mail the Samaritans or PAPYRUS, not a chat room. I have arranged to meet a representative from Bebo to discuss how the site can help to reach out to vulnerable young people, and was encouraged to hear that it is already working closely with the Samaritans. Bebo representatives recently gave a presentation at the suicide prevention convention in Killarney.
American research has found that young people who commit suicide are more likely than their peers to have had a friend who died through suicide. That certainly rings true in the cases in my constituency. Mind has stated that the aftermath of a suicide appears to be a dangerous time for those in close proximity, as they identify with the victim and are already vulnerable. The emotional furore that follows death may loosen internal restraints against self-destruction. That is why I have been so angry about the press coverage. It is why it is absolutely vital that the press should follow the Samaritans guidelines if they are not to add to the problem. It is why emotional literacy and life skills are important to help young people survive.
When faced with real death and the intensity of emotional pain, many young people have no experience of how to deal with that pain. Their peers lack the life experiences and words to help and the knowledge of where to go for guidance. That is backed up by figures from ChildLine, which show that girls are 11 times more likely to call about self-harm than boys and account for four out of every five calls that mention suicides. Boys and young men are likely to be nearer the end of their tether; they do not typically ask for help until they are desperate.
It is important that the gender stereotypeswherever they occurthat reinforce the idea that men should be self-reliant and able to cope are challenged at every level. That is why the Samaritans campaigns are so important. They direct people to help and support
that is readily accessible and that allows young people to have support on their own terms and in their own territory, which is critical.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on the amount of effort she has put into trying to deal with this tragic situation. I am pleased that she mentioned the Samaritans and the good work that they do. I have strong contacts with the Samaritans in Cardiff. Does my hon. Friend know about the listening scheme in Cardiff prison? It trains prisoners to listen to other prisoners, who are often young, vulnerable men. It is important to have someone there to listen to the problems face to face.
Mrs. Moon: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am well aware of the work that she does with the Samaritans in Cardiff and the support that she gives the organisation. I am aware of the scheme, which also operates in Parc prison in Bridgend, and of how critical it is. It is also important for those prisoners who take part in the scheme, as they learn how to listen, talk and recognise their emotions. They tell me about the change that that has made to their lives, and the future that opens up for them when they learn to articulate and deal with strong emotion.
The suicide in Avon study found that 80 per cent. of young male suicides had no contact with their GP, psychiatrist or other support agency in the four weeks before they died. In fact, they were five times more likely to have had contact with the police than with any other agency. People ask me whether the problem is one of drugs and alcohol. The answer is that it is for some young people, but not for others.
Bridgend, like too many constituencies, has young people who turn to drugs and alcohol. Sometimes they do it to seek respite from depression, emotional confusion and a sense of failure and despair. I spent part of last summers recess with the local mental health services, especially with those dealing with drugs and alcohol, and I am certain that those services need to be expanded. Waiting lists for help and advice are too long, and the range of services that is needed is simply not available.
My hon. Friend the Minister will remember coming with me last year to meet staff at Bridgends Wallich mental health facility. They made a plea for help to establish a wet hostel, where those who are not yet ready to give up alcohol and drugs could live and be supported and stabilised. In that way, they would be able to give up their dependency.
I have also had contact with people living in communities across the world where there have been suicide clusters. They have given me advice about how they have tackled the problem, and I especially thank Dr. Cassidy from Northern Ireland for the details of the strategy employed there. I have passed that information on to agencies in my locality.
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