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3.3 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I want to use this opportunity to raise an issue that I have raised several times. I seek to persuade Ministers, at the Home Office in particular, to improve the legislation on paedophiles—particularly predatory paedophiles who use encryption.

Most of us in the House know that paedophiles collect photographs of child abuse. In the old days, they used hard copies, then they used videos. Now they are into digital data, which are kept on computers, CD-ROMs and DVDs—any form of digital storage. They source the material by downloading from websites, swapping among themselves on the internet and producing their own photographs. The demand for new material is endless and increasing. There have been a number of changes over the years. Internationally, there is a bigger supply. In this country, there is an increasing demand. Worse than that, the level of depravity also seems to be increasing.

Many people see paedophiles as individuals who seek young teens, but the reality is that they increasingly look for material depicting the abuse of very young children—infants, and even babies. Most recently, the material has been able to be encrypted in such a way that the police and even the security forces have been unable to break into it. I have discussed the issue with police experts and the National Technical Assistance Centre, which has the job of breaking encryption for the security forces and the police. I understand from the head of NTAC that an increasing proportion of its work is related to encrypted child abuse data.

Such data used to be difficult to encrypt, but then came along 128-bit and 256-bit encryption that the individuals could download free from the internet. The process has got progressively more simple, and the new Vista Professional operating system means that, at the moment the individuals turn off their computers, all the material is automatically encrypted. Some individuals go further; they have computers with no hard drives and store the data online, often in other countries, and access is hidden by password or key.

Part 3 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—RIPA, for short—relatively recently introduced a penalty for failure to provide, on request, the password or the key. The problem is that the penalty is not working for the simple reason that it involves two years in jail. The data that the individuals—men and women—are hiding would put them in prison for considerably longer than that and they would also end up on the sex offenders register.

I am requesting a change. I shall give the Minister a brief example. A friend and colleague of mine, Dave Marshall of the Metropolitan police, arrested two individuals who were on the way to France. They had a manual on how they were going to collect and abuse children in France; fortunately, they were picked up first. At one of the individual’s homes a computer was found with what was believed to be 150 gigabytes of encrypted photos that could not be accessed—if they were single pictures, that translates to 750,000 photographs of abuse.

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The individual involved is a prime suspect in a case involving the abuse of a little girl of three, so the police particularly want to look at his computer. They know that he likes to photograph his activities and are sure that the photos are on the computer. NTAC has had the computer for more than nine months but has failed to break the encryption. The police want the data to convict the individual—and others, of course. They want to collect the names and faces of the children, because they want to care for them. We in the House want such individuals put away for a very long time so that they cannot touch children.

I have raised the issue with Ministers again and again. They are sympathetic, but say that they wish to wait and see how part 3 of RIPA works. It does not work. I cannot understand why we need to wait for more and more paedophiles to escape detection, while little children fail to get the safe care and attention that people expect of our society. There will be yet another Home Office crime Bill; a small amendment in it would rectify the situation and could increase the penalty from two years to at least five, so that our children and babies can be protected.

3.8 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I would like to talk about one subject this afternoon. Airedale general hospital is situated in a very attractive part of my constituency, at Eastburn in the Aire valley. It cares for constituents of Keighley, Pendle, Skipton and Shipley. It has a well used helipad that works with the accident and emergency department, which cares for climbers, potholers and abseilers from the dales, as well as for others with less rural interests.

This excellent district hospital is the biggest employer in my constituency and is highly regarded by me and my neighbouring colleagues—and, more importantly, by our constituents. However, I wish to draw the House’s attention to the long-standing problems caused by lack of investment in the kitchens and canteen. Since 2002, the hospital trust and management have been asked by Bradford’s environmental health service to improve the kitchens. At the time, the trust and management explained that funds were not available for that work. Each time the kitchens have been inspected since then, the list of improvements and refurbishments needed has grown. At the moment, they include replacing floor tiles, wall surfaces and ceilings, as well as new, improved methods of air extraction—at a total cost, it is claimed, of £1.5 million.

Last year, I had meetings with management where I stressed the need for the work to be done. By then, however, they had decided that the only solution was to go down the privatisation path. In March this year, the staff were advised that a procurement process was under way to outsource catering. On Thursday of this week, 24 July, the trust will announce its decision. I still hope that catering will be kept in-house and finance will be found for the kitchen refurbishments.

Good food is a very basic requirement, and it goes without saying that it is especially important for people who are unwell and in hospital. The food at Airedale general hospital has been praised. I note that the hospital trust’s in-patient survey for 2007-08 stated:

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Letters to the local paper, Keighley News, and website forums have also congratulated the hospital on its standard of food.

I have been advised that before making its decision on catering the trust board will, when allocating the contract or otherwise, take into consideration the following criteria: quality, nutrition, safety, contingency planning, guarantees, value for money and staff transfer proposals. However, public opinion, the responsiveness of local provision and the environment are not included. There is considerable evidence that the public support the retention of in-house catering. Last year, a petition was signed by 650 people in two hours. The story has occupied many column inches in the local press. This is a subject that people really care about, and I have asked that the trust take into consideration the views of local people.

Furthermore, damage is caused to the environment by transporting food over long distances, and freshness is reduced when food is not prepared on site. I believe that the promotion of good food by all public sector bodies, whether schools, care homes or hospitals, is a way of promoting a culture of healthy eating that is clearly needed in this country.

Finally, I want to talk about the staff, who are the most important factor in all this. There are significant implications for those staff, whose numbers have reduced from 92 last year to 65 now and who are working ever harder in very difficult circumstances. Many of them have contacted me. I believe that the interests of staff are wholly and inextricably linked to the interests of patients. Any threat to their jobs, terms and conditions is not acceptable. Catering work is often relatively low-paid, but the work is vital. The hard work and loyalty of these staff has been core to the success of catering at Airedale general hospital, but I am not convinced that there will be any long-term security for their employment rights.

As has been seen on numerous occasions following other such privatisations, there is no turning back, and often good things are thrown away. I hope that these few words will encourage Airedale hospital trust to demonstrate its loyalty to these extremely loyal workers by deciding on the in-house option on Thursday.

3.13 pm

David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Before the House rises for the summer recess, I wish to draw to its attention once again the plight of the Cumbrian economy—my perennial rant about our situation in Cumbria. That is because we are still the fifth poorest sub-region or county in the whole of Europe. It is not just me saying that; I am not talking down our county, with its superb people and innovators. The Commission for Rural Communities says in its latest report that people living in parts of rural Cumbria are among the country’s worst paid and our areas among the most deprived. It highlights a lack of affordable housing, declining services in rural areas and poorer access to services for people without cars. For those who have cars—and it is essential to have cars in Cumbria—their costs are rocketing for the reasons that we know.

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There are things that the Government could do about this. First, they could sort out the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the funding that we are supposed to have through the rural development programme for England, which is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the European Union. We have had a two-year funding gap whereby the money has not come through because the bureaucrats have been wrangling about what we should be doing. Perhaps other areas of the country have also suffered, but Cumbria needs that cash. We do not need political wrangles about how to spend it. We have the innovators—the small business men and women and the rural areas who have the good ideas—so give them the money.

Cumbria is also suffering because of the continuing shambles of the Rural Payments Agency, which is again late in paying hundreds of farmers in my constituency. Although it is not as bad as last year or the year before, they will now be clobbered by the clawback of the money that they were wrongly paid. Twenty thousand farmers in this country were wrongly paid. We know that the Government will behave in exactly the same way as they did with child tax credits. Demands will land on the claimant’s mat for the money to be repaid immediately, even though it is not their fault. Many farmers will not have spotted that they have been wrongly paid, so the money will not be there to be paid back—it will already have been reinvested, to use the Government’s term. Some farmers will be put out of business when that money is demanded back. It is high time that DEFRA sorted out the shambles of the RPA. Yes, it can be forgiven for getting it wrong in the first year, when it was setting up probably the most complex payments system in Europe, but it is not acceptable to get it wrong in the second and third years. DEFRA should subcontract the payments agency out to Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which seems to be able to pay its farmers on time, or across the border to Scotland.

The plight of the Cumbrian economy has not been helped by the continuing post office closure programme. I utterly condemn the senior management of the Post Office for being the Government’s little puppy dog in this. When I phoned the senior officer to say, “We are campaigning to save post offices in my constituency”, the answer was, “Well, I’m under instructions to close 2,500 post offices in the country, and if you manage to save one, Mr. Maclean, I’ll just have to find another one to close.” That was not a threat—she was not being nasty but merely stating a fact. For each post office in our constituencies that we and local people manage to save, another will be closed instead because those are the Government’s orders. The consultation has been an utter sham.

I have recently been inundated, as most colleagues probably have, by correspondence about the cost of fuel from people who have to travel in the course of their work. I have just received some letters from workers from the RPA, who point out that they are on 40p a mile—as is everyone in this House, of course—and that their actual motoring costs are now about 52p, 53p or 54p a mile. I have heard from social workers and meals on wheels workers in Cumbria, some on only 39p per mile, who are now, as volunteers, making a huge loss in trying to deliver meals on wheels or social services. That cannot continue. The report on Members’ allowances
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said that the cost of motoring was high and MPs were making a loss, but we did not wish to raise our levels until the Government and the Treasury did it for everyone else in the country. It is vital that throughout the country those essential volunteer drivers, who are driving in the course of their duty, get an increase in their Treasury mileage rates to a lot more than 40p per mile.

In Cumbria, we are facing the additional costs of vehicle excise duty. An area such as Cumbria has a lot more people with cars—they are not the newer, flashier models but older cars. We have a low-paid rural population who do not have access to buses—they just ain’t there. We all use trains when we can. We get into our cars and drive the 30 miles to the nearest train station, and then we use the trains. Those lower-paid workers will generally have older-model cars, and they are in danger of being clobbered because of the Government’s changes on VED.

I appeal to the Government: to help the Cumbrian economy, let us push the button on the nuclear programme and stop messing around. Cumbria is a nuclear county. It has Sellafield, the only centre of excellence in this country for nuclear technology. We want Sellafield to be expanded; we are willing for it to be a depository for nuclear waste—not a dump, but a depository such as those in Sweden or other Scandinavian countries where people can access it and check on the materials. We will do that for a price. We are willing to have a nuclear reactor in Cumbria. We will take that technology, provided we are not afflicted with more ghastly wind farms destroying the beautiful landscape of rural Cumbria.

At least nuclear energy will contribute to our electricity supply 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and not the 30 per cent. of the time that our miserable wind farms do. Our beautiful county is in danger of being destroyed by wind farm applications at Shap, Berrier, at the foot of Blencathra and now Cumwhinton near Carlisle. They contribute little to our energy needs, but—goodness me—they could certainly contribute 24/7 to the ugliness and destruction of our visual environment.

My penultimate point to the Government is this: please do not muck around with our GP practices and our excellent chemists. We do not need polyclinics in Cumbria. If I had cut my finger in London, I would not dream of trying to search out a local GP. Like everyone else, I would go to St. Thomas’s or one of the big hospitals. We know that there is a problem and that London needs health centres and possibly polyclinics. In Cumbria we have had big rural GP practices for years, with six or seven doctors working together in excellent health centres. We do not need polyclinics, and nor do we need the destabilisation of our system of rural chemists—some doctors are now applying to have 100-hour pharmacies, because they believe that their businesses are under threat from the Government’s White Paper.

I conclude on this point: as colleagues pass through my constituency in the Lake district this summer, possibly heading for Scotland, the highlands or elsewhere, they will find one or two tiny little parts of it where, if they stop and look carefully, they will see a red squirrel. But they should look very closely, because we are in danger of losing that species. Our red squirrels are in danger of extinction. I appeal to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to give us funding for traps to control the greys—let us spend the summer saving the reds.

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3.22 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Saving the reds is, of course, a sentiment that I echo.

This debate should be renamed the tour of Britain because it gives all Members the opportunity to visit, via virtual reality, the constituencies of other Members. The red squirrels of Cumbria are very important to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), and I am sure that the debate will end with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) inviting us all to spend our summer holidays in her constituency, seeing all the wonderful flowers that grow there.

I want to spend the brief time that I have to raise a local, a national and an international issue. I have raised the local issue with the Minister before, and it concerns a site in Leicester that is still owned by General Electric, the second largest company in the world. Those who have been to Leicester—I know that the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) frequently visits relatives there—will come off the M1 and drive to Rushey Mead and past the old Thorn EMI site. That site is now for sale. For many years, it made about a third of the light bulbs for the whole of Europe, but it has closed, and GE wishes to sell it.

The land, however, is contaminated, and we have asked the council and Ministers to intervene to ensure that it is not sold for commercial purposes until there is a full and thorough investigation by the local council and the Environment Agency into the reasons for the contamination. It should be put on the market only once the contamination is cleared. Once it has been cleared, the land should be used for housing rather than for commercial purposes or sporting activity. I find it very strange that the Government are trying to force an eco-town on Leicestershire in the western part of my constituency, on what I regard as green belt land. That is a beautiful part of the county, but I can offer them a brownfield site in the middle of Leicester, which will be ideal for house building once it has been cleared of contamination. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will give us some good news about the Government’s commitment to dealing with contaminated land and on their desire to ensure that when developers wish to build, they should build within cities, where possible, before moving outside.

My second point concerns home affairs issues, although I do not want to turn this into a debate on the programme of the Select Committee on Home Affairs because there will be other opportunities for that. I fully endorse what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said about the march against knife crime that is currently going through Westminster, and I hope to join him and others outside No. 10 at 4 o’clock to show our support for the need to find a solution to that ever-increasing problem. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise those issues, and to raise the issue of peace in Sri Lanka.

I would like, however, to address the Government’s decision to initiate a consultation on alcohol. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) will know, on Tuesday of last week the Home Affairs Committee completed its lengthy inquiry into policing in the 21st century. Alcohol-related crime is an important aspect of the time spent by the police on
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solving crimes of violence. In fact, 46 per cent. of crimes in this country are alcohol-related and, based on current figures, 6 per cent. of hospital admissions are alcohol-related. I welcome the fact that the Government have decided to carry out a consultation on the sale and availability of alcohol.

Cut-price alcohol is offered to those who wish to go to pubs and clubs for so-called happy hours. Our major supermarkets discount alcohol to such an extent that people—in many cases young people—who go to nightclubs on a Friday or Saturday night have already been able to front-load their drinking by drinking cheap alcohol at home. In some cases, alcohol in places such as Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco is actually cheaper than water. I welcome the consultation, which will last until October. Looking at the alcohol industry and, more importantly, at the effect alcohol has on crime is an important step forward.

Finally, I would like to raise an international point, which relates to Yemen. I declare an interest: I was born in Yemen, and spent the first nine years of my life there. I try to go back at least once a year with the all-party group on Yemen. Members on both sides of the House have had the opportunity to visit that wonderful country. Unfortunately, the Government have decided to restrict travelling to Yemen on the grounds that the terrorist situation has become much worse. The problem with such advice is that people-to-people contact, which is so important to building up relations, is put at risk.

I am not a security expert, but I do not think there is a huge problem for tourists visiting Yemen if they take the advice of the Yemeni Government. In other words, they should stick to the big towns and cities of Yemen, such as Sana’a and Aden—the city where I was born—where the Government give protection to tourists. The advice is sending the wrong signal given our determination to ensure that the Government of Yemen remain in line with our agenda to combat terrorism in that region of the world.

We have a proud record of providing aid to Yemen. We set up the donor conference in 2006, where millions of pounds were raised for Yemen by the countries involved. Some of that money has been spent, and other resources remain to be spent. Because we provided the basis for the donor conference, and have now started a consultation on the Yemen development plan, it is important that we are seen to take a lead in helping the Yemeni people, 35 per cent. of whom live in poverty. The level of ill health among young people there is terrible. As we enjoy our summer holidays, whether in Tiverton and Honiton, or the lovely city of Leicester—whichever pitch right hon. and hon. Members make today—I hope that we remember that there is a world outside. Yemen is not a traditional summer holiday destination for Members of Parliament, but I hope that we will take the necessary steps to protect and support the people of that small and beautiful country.

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