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My constituency is both urban and rural, and there are farms there. Farming matters, not only to our community but to all the other countries around the world. Local farming is important to us all, and reducing the number of miles that our food has to travel will make a significant improvement to climate change. Having local products on sale in local supermarkets can make a real difference. Let us stop buying from all around the world. There is nothing wrong with that-I believe in trade-but it seems daft that carrots grown in Lancashire
should be taken to Lincolnshire, and that Lincolnshire carrots should come to Lancashire. We could stop all that. Supermarkets such as Booths, a good quality local supermarket, buy regionally to support our local farmers, and that is what we need the great national supermarkets to do. They do a lot of talking, but talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words, and I expect action from the major supermarkets.
The dairy farmers have also had it rough, and we need to ensure that they get the right price for their products. Setting the right price at the farm gate will ensure that farming has a future in the UK. There is also the question of labelling, which matters to me and to most people, because we care about the welfare of livestock such as chickens reared for egg production, poultry reared as broilers, and beef. We expect the highest possible welfare standards for that livestock. There is nothing wrong with that. We must not allow poor welfare standards to be imported. Any imports should also meet the welfare standards that we expect our farmers to observe. Anyone who wants to export their products to this country should match the welfare standards that we set for our farmers. The nitrate scheme is another area that we need to look at. A lot of pressure has been put on farmers over a period of time, and that matter needs to be looked at and reconsidered.
There was a tragedy in my constituency when a young schoolgirl, Jessica Knight, was in the park at the wrong time and was savagely attacked by a maniac with a knife. She was severely stabbed and is now scarred all over. She survived-that was the good part-but her life has almost been destroyed and her family have suffered as a result of that awful attack. Compensation was paid, and of course it is the taxpayer who pays it. She received £18,000 for what she had gone through, and for the lifelong suffering ahead. That worries me, because it is impossible to judge, so soon after the attack, what she will need. There should have been an interim payment, followed by further payments when we can judge what her requirements are.
We need to look at the compensation scheme. We take away the assets of drug dealers and give them to the police or the Home Office, but why do we not put criminals' assets into the compensation scheme? In that way, we could pay real compensation to constituents such as Jessica Knight. She has suffered so much, through no fault of her own. She was simply in the park at the wrong time. I hope that that can be looked at.
Another issue that I want to talk about is allotments. Local authorities have waiting lists for allotments, but they never take them seriously. That is certainly true of Chorley, where more than 200 people are waiting for an allotment, including the mayor herself. Let us take this challenge to the councils. People have a right to an allotment, and the councils are failing the people, including those in Chorley.
My next point is about a UK border force. We should put such a force in place and support it. People come into the UK illegally, and drugs and guns come in and women are trafficked over our borders. We need to put a border force in place. Severely injured service personnel
come back from Afghanistan who do not want to give up their uniform. They might not be able to go back into theatre, but we could use them to set up a border force if they wished. That would make a real difference, and give those people a future. They would be able to keep their uniform and help to protect our borders. We ought to look into that as a matter of urgency.
Another issue that I am greatly concerned about is the child care voucher scheme. It has been widely welcomed, but it is delivered by private companies. How well are they doing? When I asked that question, the Minister who responded told me that the Government do not know the answer because they do not administer the scheme. That is an absurd position to have got ourselves into. Ministers should be on top of their brief. They should be pursuing those companies for their failures. People are waiting up to 12 months to find out whether their child care voucher payments have been made. It is not good enough, and Ministers cannot shy away from ensuring that those companies deliver. This is taxpayers' money. I hope that that matter can be taken on board as well.
My next topic is the great question of electrification. It was good to hear the pre-Budget report, and the announcement that the Preston to Manchester line is to be electrified, because between the two lies Chorley. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) will benefit from it as well; it will make a real difference. We have overcrowding. We will get new, faster rolling stock, and there will be an increased ability for the trains to stop not only at Chorley but at Adlington. At the moment, we have the absurd situation of trains not stopping because of overcrowding. The answer is to put more trains on, and that is something that Network Rail and the train operators need to consider. Electrification will give us a lot more options. We are also getting the new station at Buckshaw village, with the new park-and-ride scheme. Electrification will mean cleaner, greener trains. We can build on that development, and I am pleased that the Government have listened to my campaign and are delivering on it. I know that my hon. Friend will agree with me on that.
Mr. Hoyle: I cannot disagree with the hon. Gentleman. There is a lot of room for improvement, especially in the standard of rolling stock. After electrification, our rolling stock could be handed over and used elsewhere on the train network. It is not old; it is just too small and cannot carry enough passengers. The major line between Preston and Manchester needs longer, faster trains with greater capacity.
My next point is about bus routes. The county council has been looking into them, and we have now lost the direct link that existed for a long time between Blackburn and Chorley. The buses used to come along Eaves lane and pick people up at the bottom of Great Knowley.
That bus now goes via the hospital, which is good, but a lot of people in Lower Wheelton and other areas can no longer use that connection. When bus routes are changed, we need to talk to the people who use them to find out which routes would be the most beneficial, rather than asking someone who sits in an office in a white tower somewhere who says, "I think this is the best route because I looked at it on a map." That is not good enough. We need to empower local people so that they can say which bus routes they want, and where they should go.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is the season of good will, and I wish you and all the staff of the House all the best at Christmas. Let us have a better year next year in the House. I look forward to that, and I wish all hon. Members on both sides of the House all the best for Christmas and the new year.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): Like my very good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), I shall not be standing at the next general election, so this could be the last time I participate in one of these debates. My knowledge of procedure might be rather shaky, but presumably there will be some kind of debate at the end of the Parliament that I shall be able to take part in. Perhaps I can look that up.
I should like to follow my hon. Friend's inspired example, although I shall not be changing the ring tone on my mobile. I shall, however, make a point of ringing her when she gets her new tune. I shall hope to hear her dulcet tones, rather than Rod Stewart, who I think is a rather aged act these days. I would rather hear my hon. Friend than that song. I shall follow her example in making a point not about local issues-although I think that it was Tip O'Neill who said "All politics is local"-but about national and international issues. I particularly want to put on record my views on Britain's place in the world, and its interest in the European Union.
I recently read an article that made the point that there are now a large number of regional groupings in the world. South America, for example, has the organisation called Mercosur or Mercado Común del Sur in Spanish-I think it is Spanish, although it may be Portuguese. It is the group of south American nations originally started by Argentina and Brazil, mainly because there was a potential arms race going on between them, but it eventually developed into a trade, investment and, ultimately, democratic group. Any member that wants to join has to be a bona fide democracy. That group of south American countries was originally based on the inspiration of the European Union. There is also ASEAN-the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Returning to east Asia, there is ASEAN, and south Asia has the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation. The Pacific has APEC-the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group-while Africa has the African Union, and there is now talk of changing the Arab League into an Arab Union. All these, originally inspired by the European Union, are essentially concentrating on issues involving security, trade and, in many cases, democracy. The world is breaking up into regional blocs based on continents. That indicates the clear necessity for a medium-sized European country of our kind to be involved in its bloc-in our case, the European Union. Without that, we would simply be diminished, and would have much greater difficulty in making our voice heard in the world.
That puts into context the backward-looking nature of a party like the UK Independence party, for example, which wants us to pull out of the European Union. Thank God all three major parties in this Parliament want us to stay in the EU; there may be differing emphases from different parts of the spectrum, but none the less, that is a common wish. I certainly hope that we will never, ever think about pulling out of the EU.
"The Community opens windows on the world for us that since the war have been closing".
"I never thought I would say this but Mrs Thatcher was prescient and right."
We all know that there are many detailed things wrong with the EU, and things go particularly wrong when it tries to get into what Douglas Hurd, now Lord Hurd, described as the "nooks and crannies" of British life. That is part of the problem, as it becomes unpopular in dealing with all those detailed matters in a rather ham-fisted way-and the Government then apply gold plating. I trust that when a Conservative Government eventually-I hope-take office next year, they will be able to deal with those issues. I am sure that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will do their best to bring some common sense to those controversial areas.
The European Union is at its best when it is dealing with larger global matters, whether those be trade or, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) mentioned, climate change and the environment, and it is making a sensible fist of trying to take the lead globally on such issues. In some ways-although on energy, despite many efforts, it is has not yet got its act together-the EU is way ahead of China and America on those issues, particularly in dealing with civil and military actions all around the world by backing up its actions with European resources and in dealing with foreign policy issues. In that area, Europe has a role and it is important that it play to its full strength. To do that properly, it must first of all get its act together.
It was apparent to me during a Foreign Affairs Committee visit to Washington this year that President Obama was not visibly impressed by what he found in
Prague when the European nations met together and discussed issues in a rather squabbling and disagreeable sort of way. He was not impressed, and I gather he said that he would not come back until Europe was more united on some of the issues that he was concerned about. I thought that that was a reasonable comment from an incoming President.
Equally, we must be less subservient to the United States. A stronger voice from a Europe that is less subservient to America helps both America and ourselves. Still on the subject of the relatively new President Obama, nothing was more embarrassing than seeing all those European Prime Ministers scrabbling to be the first through the door to the oval office to speak to the President or Secretary of State or whatever. It is embarrassing: it embarrasses America and it does us no good either. It will be much better if Europe can get its act together and present a clear and distinctive point of view, to which America will listen. On trade, for example, Europe has a point of view-a united point of view-and America is forced to listen, at least much more so than with some of the foreign policy initiatives of recent times.
On Iraq, for example, Europe was not united, and there was a visible divide between countries such as Britain and Spain on the one hand and Germany and France on the other. America still went ahead. We hoped that we would exert some influence on the decision of America, but we had no influence whatever. I personally voted against the war in Iraq, because at the time I did not see that the weapons of mass destruction were any threat to this country, even if they existed; I knew no more than anyone else, but I thought they posed no threat to this country.
It seems to me that if a country presents no threat to the UK, we should not invade it; it is as simple as that. We are now seeing what is coming out of the Chilcot inquiry, and it is astonishing to me that that fundamental mistake was made, way back in the early part of this century. We are paying the price for that now, and the Government are paying a price for the diversion of the time and effort of the Prime Minister and the people from the legitimate concerns about reforming public services and similar matters in this country.
The Government paid a heavy price for that elementary foreign policy mistake, and the truth is that we gained no extra pressure or influence as a result of what we did. There was a point at which the Americans called the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", but they are now back in favour. The Germans voted against approving the Iraq war, and they are back in favour, while Britain has no greater standing with America than before. That is something that this country has to get right strategically: we must understand the role of Europe in maximising the power and influence we can have in the world, while at the same time distancing ourselves and being less subservient to America, which, fundamentally, pursues its own interests.
There are areas where Europe can play-and indeed already is playing-some sort of role. At the recent Council, for example, Europe produced a statement on east Jerusalem that was prodding America, which in my view has been rather tame on this subject, into taking some sort of further action, adopting a tougher line with Israel. Secondly, on Iran, the European E3 plus 3 has proposed a series of sanctions over timing, and it is
now clear that a sanctions regime is necessary to try to get the Iranian regime to see any sense, to abide by its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and more generally to abide by international law, which it is breaking. If we can get some support from China and Russia in this instance, we will have an effect, and Europe is playing a role in achieving that.
Things are clearly much more difficult with Afghanistan. Whatever we do, America has taken the lead and there is very little we can do to influence American policy. However, as a wide coalition is now dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, the sense of the policy, now coming through more strongly from European public opinion than from American public opinion, is that in the end there will have to be some sort of negotiation or political deal. It is not possible to achieve a military victory alone, and it is not possible to rely on military progress alone, although I support the current surge as a necessary part of a long and difficult process of securing something more stable in that country. Europe is clearly beginning to play a role, even though I accept that America is in the lead on this matter.
Europe must pay more attention to its immediate neighbours, particularly Russia, which, after all, is partly a European nation. I do not know whether Members saw a wonderful television programme called "The Art of Russia", broadcast recently, in which Russians said, "We are neither European nor Asian: we are simply Russian." That is true. Russia, plus the countries that surround it-Belarus, Ukraine and the "stans", for instance-is an enormously important part of our geopolitical sphere. If Britain and Europe together could help to bring it more into the context of European policy, they would play a huge part in stabilising the world, enabling America, Europe and Russia to act together. Of course that would be difficult; of course there would be all sorts of drawbacks. Not every initiative prompts a response. None the less, I think that we should try.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): As the hon. Gentleman is about to end his speech, may I say to him-bearing in mind the comments that he has made, with which I entirely agree-that this House will greatly miss his sagacity and experience after the next election?
We need a strong Europe to play a role, and within that role we need Britain to play a significant part. However, it will only be able to play such a part if it has a more coherent view of the policy that it can follow and the position that it can take.
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