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23 Jun 2010 : Column 113WH—continued

As the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) pointed out, Cumbria is a dense and complex web, which stretches across the artificial boundaries created by the Boundary Commission. Grandchildren of constituents in Brampton were in the hon. Gentleman's
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constituency when the shots were fired. In all that we do, I hope that we reflect that dense web of Cumbrian culture in two specific ways. I hope that we look at the lessons of the tragedy in terms, first of distance and secondly of the way in which we conduct the inquiry. Both should reflect Cumbrian approaches.

In terms of distance, we need to understand the sad but powerful lesson that we represent a county defined by its sparse population and long distances. That is why the West Cumberland hospital matters and why we in Penrith and The Border think all the time about what would have happened had some terrible tragedy occurred in Kirkby Stephen, which is an hour and a half from the Carlisle hospital.

In this time of potential budgetary cuts, we need to fight hard to make sure that the police services that got 47 armed officers on the ground within an hour continue to be able to do that. We should also remember that recent events are an argument against hasty amalgamations, against closing our cottage hospitals and turning them into big hospitals, and against amalgamating the Cumbrian police with the Lancashire police. As we have seen, local services are much more responsive and flexible, and they can draw on services available in other parts of the country and make them operate more effectively.

We need to fight for such things. That is partly because although Cumbria is one-although we are a dense web-the needs of people in Copeland are very different from those of people in Penrith and The Border. Although we are one, we are also divided in very sad ways. The life expectancy figures on the west coast are nearly 20 years shorter than those in the east of Cumbria. Those are the kinds of things that we need to work together to overcome. They are also the reason why all our specific services-the police, the fire service and social services-need to be local, adept, flexible and focused on specific communities and to be pragmatic in responding to them.

That brings us to the inquiry. The hon. Member for Copeland talked about Cumbrian virtues. As he said, the fundamental element of Cumbria and of the whole border is people who are slow to react and slow to anger, but who, when they are determined, are resolute and focused. Let us hope that the inquiry reflects those values. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should not rush into anything, but once a decision is made we should stick with it and push it through.

We should not have some grand commission based in London, with people who know nothing about Cumbria, guns or mental health pontificating in an abstract fashion. We need the very virtues that the hon. Gentleman saw in the local newspapers to be part of a local inquiry and a local commission. Those involved should include mental health professionals, the police and, above all, Cumbrians. Too often, our farmers and our teachers are ignored in favour of distant bureaucrats. Let the commission and the inquiry reflect Cumbrian values; let those involved be slow to anger and resolute, but also precise, pragmatic and focused on the exact events of the day of the shootings.

On that point, let me end my maiden speech by saying that it is a great honour to stand in this room with the hon. Gentleman, who is an impressive leader. It is also a great honour to participate in a debate that shows the precision, level of inquiry and openness that I hope can characterise the House as a whole.

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3.14 pm

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): If this was the Floor of the House of Commons, I presume that the tradition would be for me to pay tribute to the maiden speech that we have just heard. I know that this is not the Floor of the House, but with your permission, Mr. Benton, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). I congratulate him on his excellent and moving maiden speech and thank him for his genuine concern, which was heartfelt. It was very much appreciated by myself and, I am sure, by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed).

I pay tribute to the emergency services and the wider community. We can only imagine what the emergency services-the police, the hospital staff, the doctors and the nurses-had to face, given the severity of the gunshot wounds; it must have been absolutely awful for the police officers and the doctors and nurses who looked after people.

The majority of the armed response officers who were involved were not police officers, but Civil Nuclear Constabulary officers. They are not the Minister's responsibility, although the Home Office often believes that they are. However, I ask the Minister to take a personal interest in the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which would like a number of issues to be looked at. I pay tribute to its officers, as well as to the police, because they did a fantastic job.

One group that we sometimes forget is the Churches. They were in evidence in huge amounts, as was the desperate spiritual need that the community felt. Whatever the denomination, the Churches played a significant part, and I pay tribute to them.

For a couple of weeks after the shootings, I carried around the article that Tony Parsons wrote in the Daily Mirror on the Saturday. I would be in the pub and I would tell people who were talking to me about the tragedy to read it. Not a single person who did was not wiping away a tear when they had finished-it was so moving. We should compare that article with what I can only describe as some of the rubbish that was written. I sent a little handwritten note to Tony Parsons-I hope that he got it-telling him what we in the community felt about his article.

On West Cumberland hospital, I spoke to a senior member of the community, who simply asked, "How on earth could anyone ever dream of not giving us the money?" We should think of what the hospital has been through. We had the floods last November, the terrible tragedy of the Keswick coach accident and then the shootings. How could people even think of not giving the area the money that has been promised? I do not think that they can, but we will continue to fight to make sure that the money is made available and that we get a brand-new hospital.

The weekend after the tragedy, I was standing at the bar in my local pub talking to a friend. We were talking about how awful, difficult and tragic the shootings were and about the enormity of what had happened. My friend looked at me and said, "We'll get through this though. You know why? Because we're west Cumbrians." On that note, I would like to finish.

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3.19 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I thank and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed)-I will call him my hon. Friend-for bidding for and getting the debate. I also pay tribute-not out of form, but out of sincerity-to my neighbour, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). He has stepped out of line in a courageous way and made a maiden speech in an unconventional place and an unconventional manner on an issue that genuinely matters. I am sure that that will be noted by many.

There are not words to describe the horrors of 2 June and what followed, but there are words to describe the response of the community-compassion and solidarity, above all others. As the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) and the hon. Member for Copeland said, that response defined and continues to define what happened. The hon. Member for Copeland in many ways embodies that spirit, not just by showing leadership in his community on the tragedy that we are debating, but in his response to the other tragedies that took place only days earlier.

There has been talk about London journalists. I am more used to reading Tony Parsons's comments about 1970s pop culture than what he writes about modern tragedy in west Cumbria. However, he and other journalists who went there, whose conduct we will perhaps talk about in a moment, came away staggered by the strength of the communities and their response. London journalists make it their business in their line of work to visit the scene of dreadful tragedies. I am not trying to create a league table of community response, but without a doubt they have been staggered by the tremendous solidarity shown in the communities of Cumbria-not just those that were directly affected, but communities throughout the county.

Craig Mackey, the chief constable of Cumbria, who has been a policeman for 25 years, said that the event was by far the most hideous thing he had ever had to deal with-and he has seen some pretty hideous things. As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, NHS staff and experienced police officers had never seen a gunshot wound, never mind several of them in one day. It needs to be said that they dealt with things with stoicism, compassion and professionalism. We expect the emergency services to be outstanding, and they were, under extreme pressure. In many cases they put themselves in harm's way to provide assistance to stricken people. They dealt with physical and emotional traumas on that hideous day. The police, national health service staff-ambulance drivers, paramedics, doctors and nurses-mountain rescue teams, volunteers and others put themselves in harm's way to provide assistance when it was important.

My constituency was not touched directly by the shootings, although the towns and villages of Ambleside, Coniston, Grasmere and Hawkshead were put on lockdown for much of that day, as it was feared that the gunman could arrive on the streets at any time. Cumbria is a huge county, but it feels small after such an incident. Connections emerge all over the place. My 25-year-old brother-in-law will not mind my saying that he is a rookie policeman, and for him it has been a baptism of
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fire; and a close friend of mine happened to be on the campsite at Boot where the final shootings took place. Even aside from such personal connections, if you kick one Cumbrian we all limp; and there is a sense of solidarity and standing together that shines through.

To echo the comments of most of the hon. Members who have spoken, a knee-jerk response from legislators would not be sensible. That does not mean that there should be no response; but hard, tragic cases make bad law, without a shadow of a doubt, and the laws passed in response to previous tragedies have clearly not prevented subsequent ones. We should not jump to conclusions. There is always a sense-which I share-that something must be done; we feel powerless. For now, at least, that something is to support the community and help it to recover. Lessons must be learned thoroughly. It goes without saying that there will be no trial, and that is why a full-and I would say public-inquiry is crucial, on terms set, as has already been said, by the community. That should not be to point the finger at anyone other than the culprit-not the emergency services or anyone else-but an inquiry is necessary to enable us to learn lessons from the tragedy.

There are some lessons that we should not learn. Like the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), whom I welcome to the House, I represent a good chunk of what is rightly Lancashire, but some of the patronising stuff written in the media focused on Cumbria being a pitifully small county with a police force that cannot deal with its problems. That is nonsense. Recently there was a proposal to merge Cumbria and Lancashire police forces; that would be the wrong lesson to learn. It would not help the grieving communities to put their police headquarters in Preston rather than Penrith.

Finally, I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Copeland about the reaction of elements of the media. The media must leave families to grieve and to recover in dignity and peace. We must not, in future, allow them to turn such tragedies into a mawkish circus.

3.26 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I want briefly to add to what has been said, and to pay tribute to an excellent and unconventional maiden speech by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), which was quietly powerful. I also want to add to the comments on how my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) has conducted himself. All new Members come here wanting to represent our communities in the best way, and we look for examples of ways to do that; my hon. Friend has been an inspiration to me and others by his leadership in such difficult times, speaking out and representing a community in great pain. That will always stay with me.

My constituency is south of my hon. Friend's, and like that of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), it was not directly affected, although the town of Broughton was put under lockdown when no one knew where the gunman was going. Also, about 700 people a day travel to Sellafield to work, so there are deep ties, including family ties, there. Everyone knows someone who has moved down from Whitehaven, or moved up, and the family bonds between those areas are incredibly strong. I know that my constituents see
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the hurt and suffering of their west Cumbrian neighbours, friends and colleagues, and are at a loss to know how to help, but they stand ready, as we all do, to try to help the community through.

I do not want to add to the comments on the national press, because a powerful case has been made about what people have seen at first hand, and the effect on the community. However, I want to mention the local press. I fully endorse the huge value of the community role that it plays throughout the year, in community events big and small-and never does it play that role more fully than in such circumstances as we are debating. The local press and media are going through difficult times; part of that is due to reforms that they are undertaking to try to ensure that they are financially viable at a time when technological change makes that increasingly difficult. However, the Government must continue to look for ways to support local papers and media. I hope that they will think carefully when they consider their policy on public advertising, for example, which has the potential to take out a vital income stream from the local press. That would make things far more difficult. It is so important that we keep such institutions able to serve the community.

I endorse the case that has been made for continued investment in the police and the hospital in the area. They are early examples-there will be so many more of them as the weeks and months go by-of cases where the need to ensure the sustainability of the public finances nationally runs hard against local communities' needs for continuation of services. No one can pretend that this Government will not face difficult choices, or that any party that had won would not have done so. That is why it is essential that the efficiencies that we make are not driven beyond what is ultimately best for the economy, and do not damage our local communities to such an extent that it will be difficult for them to recover. I am not making a party political point; I simply urge Members on both sides of the House to bear that in mind.

On the inquiry, it is clear that looking at mental health provision in respect of firearms licensing is absolutely necessary, as is a review of mental health provision in the community generally. We do not know-we can never fully know-but it is extraordinarily unlikely that a person would flip overnight from being completely mentally stable to committing such dreadful atrocities. It may be that we are talking about something that it simply was not feasible to have picked up, but that is a point to consider when we look at mental health provision in the wider community.

Finally, I endorse what everyone has said about the need to look at gun licensing thoroughly in the round, and to not make a knee-jerk response, but I urge the Government to come to the matter with an open mind, and not a preconceived idea that legislation to restrict guns is not the way to go; that would steer them on to another path.

We may review the matter and decide that the laws are as tight as they feasibly can be and that, given the balance of risk, the restrictions that would have to be imposed for further tightening would be disproportionate, but it would have been far less likely that a man who had a licence to use firearms for sport would have gone on a lethal killing spree if he had not had access to those guns. That does not prejudge any review of the
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balance to be struck and the consequences of further tightening, but it is essential that the matter is looked at as a separate question. Clearly, in rural areas such as mine and across the whole of Cumbria, farmers have a real need for firearms, but we must be prepared to take an open-minded look at guns for sport, and all the pros and cons.

Simon Hart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Woodcock: I was about to finish, but I shall give way.

Simon Hart: I simply want to pick up on the issue of the review of mental health provision, which the hon. Gentleman rightly raised. Most people would be open-minded about such a review, and I agree that it should proceed on the basis of evidence rather than anything else, but surely there can be no distinction between people who own weapons for sport and people who own weapons as part of their livelihood when it comes to mental health assessment.

John Woodcock: That is a good point. I was not thinking of that specifically when I spoke about a review of mental health provision, although those issues must form part of it. As I said, it may be impractical to say that guns that are held for sport should not be kept at home but in some kind of secure premises, but it is right that we examine the matter and look at whether a distinction can be made between guns that are needed by farmers, which clearly need to be kept at home, and guns used for sport, which one cannot say need to be kept at home. It may be disproportionately difficult to put in place other arrangements, but I hope that the issue will be properly examined as part of the Government's inquiry.

3.35 pm

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab): It is customary on such occasions to congratulate the Member who secured the debate, but I know that on this occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), like me, wishes that we were not here and that the events had not happened-but they did. He spoke movingly and with great dignity and bravery. I want to place on the record the high regard in which I hold him, as a result of not just what has happened in the past few weeks but the work that he has done on behalf of his community and the leadership that he has shown, which has also been shown by my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Tony Cunningham) and for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) and, indeed, all hon. Gentlemen from that part of the world, as their local communities faced such tragedy. Our condolences go to the friends and families of those whose lives were taken.

I wish to pay tribute, as many speakers have, to the emergency services in the affected communities and also from across the north of England as additional resources were brought to bear on these terrible events. I want to place on the record our thanks to the Sellafield police, who have been referred to previously, who played an important role.

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It is entirely right that investigations are taking place into what happened in west Cumbria on 2 June. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said, issues will be raised around resources and how they were deployed, and the resources that will be available in the future. It will seem incongruous to people for whom this is a raw and recent memory that the chief constable and the police authority in Cumbria should be discussing the loss of dozens of front-line officer posts at a time when the force has faced perhaps its greatest challenge.

We also heard about the West Cumberland hospital. I hope that these matters can be dealt with sensitively. I know that the Minister, who I welcome to his post-I wish that it had been under other circumstances, but I do welcome him-is a decent man, and that he will fight the Home Office corner. I would expect that his colleagues in the Department of Health would do the same. Members of Parliament from that part of the country are fighting the corner on behalf of their constituents, and I expect Ministers to do the same, because public services in this context-the emergency services-are synonymous with public safety.

The Government were entirely right not to rush to legislation, but it would be wrong to dismiss the positive effects of the earlier legislation which was referred to, particularly that following Hungerford and Dunblane. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said, it may not have prevented this tragedy-it did not-but it may have prevented tragedies in other circumstances.

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