HC Deb 22 May 2003 vol 405 cc1188-241

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Thursday 22nd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd June.—[Joan Ryan.]

2.31 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I wish to speak on Cyprus. I am the chairperson of the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's all-party group on Cyprus, which is made up of Members from all of the major parties in this House. Since the brutal military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by the Turkish army in 1974, we in this House have, over the years, had many debates on, asked many questions about, and tabled many early-day motions on Cyprus. Our group has always made it very clear that we are just as concerned with the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots as we are with those of Greek Cypriots.

In the years since 1974, there have been many attempts to find an honourable solution to the division of the island of Cyprus. It became clear during that time that the lack of progress was due to the attitude of Mr. Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, and his friends and supporters in Turkey. Since 1974, he has done nothing to enable the island of Cyprus—a country that is a member of the Commonwealth, and for which the United Kingdom is one of the guarantor powers—to work together with Greek and Turkish Cypriots to develop their country. Some years ago, he declared the so-called independent state of northern Cyprus. To this day, only one country in the world recognises it: Turkey. The United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Kingdom all refuse to recognise it. So, sadly, we have made no progress on a settlement.

Many Members of this House have fully supported the application of Cyprus for membership of the European Union, and we were delighted when it became clear that it will become a member next year. As those discussions on membership were taking place, the then President of the Republic of Cyprus, President Clerides, asked Mr. Denktash on several occasions to join him to discuss Cyprus's future membership of the EU. He always—always—refused, saying that only if President Clerides recognised his independent state of northern Cyprus would he take part in such discussions.

When it became clear that Cyprus would join the European Union, the Secretary-General of the United Nations sought a settlement to the division, so that next year, when the Republic of Cyprus becomes an EU member state, the whole of Cyprus would join at the same time. I welcome and support the attempts of the Secretary-General to find a solution, but, again, we got nowhere, and again for the same reason: Mr. Denktash.

The voice of the people of northern Cyprus has now changed greatly, however. Turkish Cypriots went on to the streets in their thousands, calling for an end to the division of the island and speaking of the wish of the people of northern Cyprus, whatever Mr. Denktash says, to be part of the Cyprus that joins the European Union next year. The people of northern Cyprus, after years of silence, have clearly asked for an end to the isolation that, sadly, they experience from the world.

The British Government are major players in the affairs of Cyprus. We controlled it for many years, and two of the most important military bases in the British military establishment are still on the island. I have already mentioned the role that Turkey has played and continues to play in northern Cyprus. We also know that Turkey wants nothing more than to become a member of the European Union. This Government support and encourage that wish, but what I and other Members want to know is: just what do my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary say to the Turkish Government about Cyprus and an end to the division of the island? No one can say that Turkey has no influence in northern Cyprus; thousands of Turkish troops are there, and it helps the Denktash regime financially. So we say clearly to Turkey: use your influence in northern Cyprus and make it clear to Mr. Denktash that he must now enter into meaningful discussions with the UN Secretary-General to end this long-running tragedy of the division of Cyprus.

The people of northern Cyprus have clearly said what they want to happen. For the first time since 1974, we have witnessed invasion: people crossing the divide between northern and southern Cyprus to visit the areas in which they used to live and their former homes, and to meet their former friends. So the attitude and wish of Cyprus is now very clear. The people have spoken, be they Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots. They say, "We want to live together, work together and prosper together."

So where does the United Kingdom stand in terms of this very clear wish? Do we support these people, and if so what are we doing to ensure that such developments continue and lead to a united Cyprus, thereby ending the division of the island and the suffering of its people, among whom, sadly, none have suffered more in recent years than the Turkish Cypriot community? If that is our policy, what are we doing to pursue it? That is the question to which many Members of this House want an answer, and it is why I have spoken today.

2.39 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Unusually, I am not so grateful for being called earlier because I would have liked to respond to several later contributions. As is often said in this place, one has to take one's chance when one can.

First, I wholly agree with the hon. Member for 'Tooting (Mr. Cox) on a subject that he has revisited in several recess Adjournment debates. I particularly endorse his point about people power in Cyprus. In a debate earlier this week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made specific reference to the position in Cyprus. The hon. Member for Tooting is right that we in this country must endorse the demands, requests and pressure from the people of Cyprus to resolve their difficulties once and for all. I happened to be an MP in 1974—a long time ago—when the division of Cyprus took place. I recall the tragic circumstances, which were terrible for the people of Cyprus, and for all the people who love that benighted island when the tragedy continued. I entirely endorse everything that the hon. Gentleman said, and I hope that the Minister will take his points seriously and communicate them to the Foreign Office.

The Minister has heard reference made on several recent occasions to the little booklet produced by the Parliament First group—a distinguished group, apart from myself, of course. "Parliament's Last Chance" has a distinguished authorship, including Members of all political parties. I hope that the Minister has, having been encouraged to do so, now read it. If not, next week would allow him an admirable opportunity to do so. Other hon. Members, who may believe that we live in a parliamentary democracy and—to put it in simple terms—that Parliament's power to hold the Executive to account has decreased, is decreasing and ought to be enhanced, should also find useful material in the booklet.

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister—and, through him, that of the Leader of the House—to several issues in the document, but before I do so I refer him back to the debate of 29 October 2002, to preceding debates and, indeed, to previous weekly encounters with the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on those very issues. They should be of concern to every Member of Parliament, whether they sit on the Front or the Back Benches, and to all who believe that our democracy relies on effective scrutiny of Government legislation and of the Government's Executive actions.

The problems have certainly not developed suddenly—as hon. Members know, I have been in and out of this place for quite a long period—but as a product of a war of attrition between No. 10, Whitehall and the House. The resignation statement of the former Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), underlined the fact that the problems did not suddenly occur in the year 2003, but progressively—or, I should say, regressively—over several years.

"Parliament's Last Chance" would also be of interest to people outside Parliament who take our proceedings seriously. If I had to concentrate on one core issue, it would be the management of Parliament's time. All too often, the management of our time is not only in the hands of the Executive of the day, but is organised to the convenience of that Executive. I am not just complaining about the speedy passage of the business immediately preceding this debate, which meant that my soup is still sitting in the Members' Tea Room getting cold. It is much more serious than that. If Parliament is to reassert its authority over the Executive, we must be able to reassert our power over our own timetable.

Almost all the elected legislative assemblies in the west and other parts of the world—whether they have mirrored our system or adopted a different one—enable the individual members and the parties collectively to decide the priorities for the business. The management of business is not left to the Government, but is recognised as an important power for the elected assembly. That is why "Parliament's Last Chance" emphasises the need for some sort of business committee in Parliament. It is also the reason why the Scottish Parliament has set up, under the chairmanship of a presiding officer, a group of people from all parts of its elected assembly, which can then decide on the priorities for its business.

Furthermore, the motion proposed by the right hon. Member for Livingston on 29 October last year entailed a move towards some form of collective consensus building on how the business of the House should be conducted. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) knows, it was relatively limited in recommending proper consultation, but as he and I both know, that exercise now seems to have ground to a halt. Why? Because it undermines the hegemony of the Government Whips.

Government Members should take a greater interest in why the House decision in favour of cross-party consultation has lapsed. As I mentioned to the Leader of the House at business questions this afternoon, we should focus on what needs to be done at this stage of the Session. If the Government ask the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and me to carry over some business—I have calculated that we have only a further 10 weeks left for this Session's legislative programme—without proper consultation on the priorities of all the legislation, they might receive a dusty answer. I stress that the House had decided that such consultation should take place. It was not merely an Opposition motion or an afterthought. The motion came before the House and was approved by it, but the process has now stalled. In fairness to the Leader of the House, he responded positively to my point in business questions earlier today, but I hope that we can make further progress.

The booklet includes several other extremely important proposals. None of its authors believes that it is the last word on the subject—far from it—but we believe that all hon. Members, particularly Labour Back Benchers, not only have a right and responsibility to take the proposals seriously, but may have their final opportunity in the coming months to reassert their rights on behalf of their constituents to ensure that Parliament works more effectively.

The right hon. Member for Livingston used to say on many occasions—I hope that I am paraphrasing him accurately—that good government depends on good scrutiny by Parliament. Many of us feel that the position is deteriorating—though, as I said, not suddenly. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst would be the first to admit that he and his colleagues were far from perfect and introduced legislation that was inadequately thought through on many occasions. When we were given an opportunity to improve it, we often found ourselves up against the guillotine.

Saying that two wrongs do not make a right does not improve the position, however. It has not been right for some time and it continues to be a blot on the reputation of Parliament. One of the reasons why members of the public do not hold Parliament in higher esteem is that we do not look as if we are in control of our business. We do not look as if we are giving proper scrutiny to issues that require it, and we do not look from outside as if we are doing our job properly.

It is important to recognise that individual MPs of all parties are highly respected in their own constituencies. I have no doubt that many of the usual suspects are in their places on both sides of the House today and they will raise issues that they feel are important to them. The polls show that individual Members of all parties—I shall not embarrass anyone by mentioning names—are highly respected in the local community. However, when the public are asked how they perceive Parliament as an institution, and whether Members of Parliament are doing their job properly collectively, we tumble down the respect league. We even sometimes come below journalists, and that is a deplorable situation.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

Has the hon. Gentleman considered that the public may be more accurate in their assessment of their constituency MP because they have more personal knowledge of his or her qualities and work, whereas their view of what happens in this place is filtered through, for example, the media's reporting of us?

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Gentleman is a colleague on the Modernisation Committee and he has given me an opportunity to polish what I laughingly call my peroration. In the Committee, we are trying to find ways to communicate better, not only through the media but directly, using the modern forms of communication that technology has now afforded to us. In that way, we could better communicate to the outside world what Parliament is doing. However, we should remember that the message is dependent on the quality of the work that we do, not on the messenger that we use. We can continue to improve the ways in which we engage with he public until the cows come home, but unless we do a better job, the public's perception—whether through the media or through direct contact at constituency level and the internet—will not improve. The perception has to be that the substance of what we are doing has improved.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I wish all colleagues an enjoyable Whitsun recess. Everyone will be welcome in Cornwall, which will—of course—be very sunny next week.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back Benchers' speeches for the rest of the debate.

2.52 pm
Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green)

Cyprus is an important issue, and I too shall address it in my remarks. It has been discussed on many occasions and for various reasons, and we have already heard about it today. It was often discussed after the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974, and numerous UN resolutions have been passed since then. All opposed the Turkish invasion, but none of the resolutions was successful.

The leader of the Turkish Cypriots for the whole time has been Mr. Denktash, whose name is often associated with intransigence. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, visited Cyprus in late February this year, in yet another attempt to settle the Cyprus dispute. The UN plan, which has been revised several times, was put before the parties and an invitation was issued to the leaders to visit The Hague on 10 March to hear the latest version of Mr. Annan's settlement plan, and to tell him whether it would be put to a popular referendum in both the Republic and the occupied territory of Cyprus.

In the event, Mr. Denktash said no on 10 March, a failure to comply that was subsequently accepted by the UN Security Council. I was deeply disappointed by the UN plan and, for once, Mr. Denktash did us a favour by rejecting it. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Cyprus will formally join the EU in May 2004. A divided Cyprus would complicate that enormously. The Turks also want to join the EU and they have argued hat there can be no solution for Cyprus unless the EU offers them an early and realistic date for formal negotiations to commence on EU membership.

At the same time, presidential elections were held in Cyprus, with the first vote on 16 February. In the event, a second vote was unnecessary, because Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos won with 51.51 per cent. in the first ballot. That brought to an abrupt end the 10-year rule of the defeated President, Mr. Clerides. I have always maintained that Mr. Clerides felt that he had to concede too much to the demands of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Denktash. I am therefore very pleased with the presidency of Mr. Papadopoulos. Interestingly, he was backed by his own party, DIKO, but also by the Socialist party, AKEL, which is the largest political party in Cyprus. AKEL gained some 34 per cent. in last year's elections and is led by the president of the House of Representatives, Mr. Demetris Christofias. Mr.Papadopoulos was also supported by the Social Democratic Movement, KISOS, and the Ecologists. That widespread political support is reflected in the composition of the Council of Ministers that took office on 3 March. It appears to be the best Government of Cyprus for a long time.

It is my understanding that the President has now informed the UN Secretary-General's special adviser on Cyprus, Mr. de Soto, that the proposed UN deal is dead. Mr. Papadopoulos has undertaken to present a new deal and has pledged to work and strive for a workable and viable solution. I wish him every success and I believe that he can do it. That belief is based on recent developments in Cyprus and the world at large. Those include the facts that Turkish Cypriots are increasingly angry with their intransigent leader, Mr. Denktash; that Turkey has lost much influence, especially with the United States; that Turkey is less important strategically since the fall of Saddam Hussein; that Turkey is now much more focused on joining the EU, and a divided Cyprus is an obstacle to that, rather than a negotiating advantage; and that President Papadopoulos leads a strong and determined Government who will come up with a Fasting solution.

Recently, Mr. Denktash opened the border so that Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and other Cypriots can visit long-lost homes and villages, which they have been prevented from doing for nearly 29 years. I fully understand all the emotions associated with those visits. They also show that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have more in common than what divides them. However, a lasting settlement should not be decided on emotions. I have yet to be persuaded that I should trust Mr. Denktash, or the Turkish Government, on these matters. Furthermore, one should not have to pay to visit one's own home and village.

It is important that the Government of Cyprus and the people develop and propose a lasting solution. However, it is for the UK Government and, in particular, the Foreign Office, who have drifted lately towards a more Turkish-designed solution for Cyprus, to accept the changed circumstances and fully to appreciate the efforts made by President Papadopoulos.

2.58 pm
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

On previous occasions, I have used the Adjournment debate to raise the issue of the Royal hospital, Haslar and I am delighted to inform colleagues who follow the fortunes of that important and grand hospital that—after several Adjournment debates since 1998—it is alive and well, and living in Gosport. The local hospitals trust is studying ways of using the accident treatment centre to a greater extent. I also see, from a recent Government publication entitled, "Keeping the NHS Local—A New Direction of Travel" that a model will be studied in which unselected patients receive rapid assessment in a local unit, with doctors from the nearest acute hospital site advising remotely via a telemedicine link. That would mean that the accident treatment centre at Haslar could be used more widely than at present, and the plan is to expand it by diverting some 4,000 extra patients a year through it. Whether it is the Adjournment debates alone, or common sense that has prevailed, I am delighted to inform colleagues that Haslar is well and we intend that it should remain that way.

Today, I wish to raise a different issue—the Government's immigration policy and political asylum system, which are generally recognised to be in a state of collapse. From small beginnings, about 80,000 people sought to come to this country in 2000. In 2002, the number of people trying to come to this country rose to 110,000, of whom the Home Office decided that about 10,000 were entitled to political asylum as they were genuinely in fear of persecution in their original place of residence. Of the remaining 100,000, about 20,000 were given exceptional leave to remain in the short term. That means that about 30 per cent. of all applicants remained here by permission. About 13,000 applicants left—or said that they were going to leave—and the remainder, who were not given leave to remain, have remained here anyway.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration told the House three weeks ago: Because refugees have to enter countries illegally, one of the perverse effects of the current system is that it has fuelled the rise of the criminal gangs that smuggle people for profit."—[Official Report, 28 April 2003; Vol. 404, c. 1.] We really cannot go an as we are. We need a different system, and the Conservative party has proposed one. We expected it to be greeted with some surprise, as it is very dramatic, but it seems to have been received quite quietly. The plan is to screen applicants for political asylum not in this country, but outside it. That is the system in Australia, and it has achieved some success. Indeed, this Government are considering screening political asylum applicants outside the country. The Home Secretary has suggested to his colleagues in Europe the possibility that we might screen political asylum seekers in Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. If the Government decide to follow the Conservative line and screen people outside the UK, we Conservatives will not criticise them for stealing our policies. On this occasion, we will congratulate them.

As matters stand, however, we have to live with the existing system. The Government have proposed some possible locations for accommodation centres, where asylum seekers would be housed on a short-term basis. I say "short term" because it appears that, within two months of being sent to an accommodation centre, asylum seekers will be told whether they are being given permission to stay here, or exceptional leave to remain.

Of course, asylum seekers who are turned down can appeal. That process can take another six months, so the prospect is that people will remain in these accommodation centres for quite some time. Two such centres, at Newton and Bicester, are currently under consideration. In February, the Government announced that they were contemplating establishing a third centre at Daedalus, a former Royal Navy air station at Lee-on-the-Solent, which was closed some years ago.

The proposal was greeted by people in the area with incredulity, dismay and anger. The Daedalus action group rapidly formed, and I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work that it has done. It has raised a petition signed by 32,000 people, and organised meetings—I addressed a meeting of 8,500 people on the cliff tops at Lee-on-the-Solent—and a march through the town.

When the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration telephoned me to tell me of her decision to contemplate Lee-on-the-Solent as a centre for asylum seekers, she said, "Come on, Peter, 400 hundred young men"—which is what the proposal might entail—"is less than 1 per cent. of the population of your constituency." However, that is not the right way to look at the matter. Daedalus's main gates are located next to a very quiet part of the residential area of Lee-on-the-Solent, which is a quiet and attractive seaside location, with a population of just over 6,000 people. The 400 young men proposed to be located at the Daedalus site would account for about 6 per cent. of the Lee-on-the-Solent population. They would have a devastating effect on an area that is very popular with retired people, and which is exceptionally quiet.

The organisations that support refugees' interests, such as the Refugee Council and the Immigration Advisory Service, all say that applicants for political asylum in this country—would-be immigrants—should be located in an urban environment, near to other people from their own countries. In both senses, Lee-on-the-Solent is supremely unsuitable. It is definitely not an urban environment, being very quiet, and it has no immigrant population at all. Very few people from the main immigrant countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Turkey, and the former Republic of Yugoslavia—even visit the area.

If—heaven forbid—the proposal were to go ahead, the burden on local services would be enormous. People living in the accommodation centre would be given primary medical care, but of course would rely on local hospital services for secondary and tertiary care. There is already a strain on doctors' services, and there are no dentists taking new NHS patients in the Gosport constituency. There are 3,000 people waiting on the Fareham and Gosport housing list, and there are 200 homeless people in the area. The burden on schools would be intolerable. It is no surprise that the residents of Lee-on-the-Solent, as well as the Gosport and Fareham councils and Hampshire county council, have committed themselves to opposing the proposition absolutely and totally. It must not proceed.

3.6 pm

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

I want to put on record my concern, which is shared by many of my constituents, about the future of the UN. This afternoon—perhaps even as we speak—the UN Security Council is considering the latest resolution on Iraq, proposed by the US and the UK. The resolution would lift sanctions, endorse the coalition's right to remain in Iraq until a new Government are formed and allow some UN involvement in Iraq. The resolution also provides for the possible return of weapons inspectors at some time in the future.

It appears that acceptance of the resolution is signed and sealed. All that we need to know now is how Syria will vote, but there has been great disquiet and uncertainly in the lead up to today's meeting. How will the permanent members of the Security Council vote, and what is their motive? Has a genuine and pragmatic compromise been reached? Is self-interest over future oil and reconstruction contracts a factor, or is there—somewhere—a genuine concern over the future of the UN?

For many of us, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the ineffectiveness of UN action in Rwanda was a reason to draw breath and ask what the UN's real role should be. What should it be doing, and who should transform it into a modern body for the 21st century?

We have been experiencing a growing number of conflicts. They have not been of the type that the UN was set up to deal with—namely, the invasion of one country by another. They have been internal conflicts, for which the UN has no obvious remit, as was the case in Rwanda.

Where do we go from here? How do we ensure that, in future, there will be humanitarian intervention in a sovereign state? That is the jargon for the central question: how do we ensure that the human rights of individuals, and the humanitarian concerns on their behalf, are upheld when law and order appears to break down or when a country's Government have no interest in the vast majority of their citizens?

The debate is not new. It is an ongoing concern in the present context, following the Iraq war. I believe that the UN has been abused by people who have sought to use it to support their own arguments. In this changing world, the UN is now unable, in many situations, to intervene. It appears that no one is taking the time to do the boring, time-consuming and detailed work involved in developing the UN charter for the 21st century.

I shall refer to three statements that have contributed to that debate in different ways over the past few years. The first is an article from the Financial Times of 4 September 2000, jointly written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). It was that Lib-Lab collaboration that got publicity rather than the content of a very important statement.

The article noted: Wars in the past decade have claimed an estimated 5 million lives. More than at any time, these wars have violated civilians, not borders". In other words, they were internal disputes. To cope with the problem, the authors said that there should be a clear framework for intervention and that

humanitarian intervention could in itself serve as a deterrent to future conflicts". In recent months, we have all asked: why, why, why did the UN not have the power to intervene in Afghanistan and Iraq? Why does it not have the power to intervene in Burma or Zimbabwe? Why do peacekeeping forces have no role in those countries? The sovereign state argument holds sway, as we all know, but we need an international grouping—the United Nations—to try to work out appropriate protocols. The article discussed the enlargement of the Security Council to comprise 10 permanent members, including Germany, Japan and one each from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The second document is entitled, "The Responsibility to Protect" and was published in December 2001. It is the report of a commission, established by the Canadian Government, of highly capable international leaders who set out some of the principles for such protocols. The foreword included a compelling plea from the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, for the international community to try to find a new consensus on humanitarian issues. He said that

if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to Rwanda, to a Srebenica—to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every aspect of our common humanity? We need to revisit the ideas set out in that document.

The third document is a speech sent to me by the Polish consulate in Bristol. It was made at the UN by the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, setting out Poland's concerns about the need for more UN work to establish human rights. The Minister called for a "group of sages", people from different parts of the world, to get together to reinforce a new UN mandate—not a challenge to the UN charter, but a mandate for humanitarian intervention.

There are many such documents. When I inquired at the Library, I was issued with a tome. The work that I have described is not eye-catching; it is not immediately inspiring, yet its outcome could be of supreme importance to the world. On behalf of many of my constituents, I ask the Government to ensure that we take a full part, as a member of the UN, in furthering the debate and implementing its conclusions. Recently, I have been concerned that we seemed to be distancing ourselves from the UN and to be talking about it as though we were not a member. We need to take on our responsibilities.

I have not sought the permission of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston for the proposal that I am about to make, but as he cut his teeth on the modernisation of this place he might be a good candidate for membership of the Polish Minister's group of sages. My right hon. Friend could take up another modernising role in the UN.

Will the Department for Education and Skills ensure that, in the new citizenship education programme, the work and role of the UN is at the fore? Like other colleagues, I can remember when the UN flag was raised at school on United Nations day. How many young people nowadays know when United Nations day is? Do they know anything at all of the work and structure of the UN?

With reference to early-day motion 538, will the Government support the UK civilian peace service? We are calling for a non-military force including not only doctors, nurses and teachers but people who could establish civilian government within a country; for example, people who know about local government or who could set up police forces. All those groups could come together—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady's time is up.

3.16 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Since 1950, life expectancy has increased by nine years for men and by 11 years for women. That is not bad. Currently,14 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland is elderly. According to estimates from Age Concern, in Northern Ireland there will be a 50 per cent. rise in the population of pensionable age in the next 20 years. In 25 of the 26 existing district councils, there will be an increase of at least 15 per cent. in that age group over the next 10 years.

We have a responsibility to ensure that all our elderly citizens are adequately protected. Crime knows no boundary of age or geography. According to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, 3 per cent. of recorded crime in the Province is directed against the elderly. They are subject to the same crimes as the rest of the population—sadly, they suffer from criminal damage, burglary, theft, vehicle theft and assault—but the impact of those crimes on their quality of life is very different.

Recently, there has been a sharp increase in reported vicious attacks against the elderly. Almost daily, newspapers and television news programmes carry reports of such attacks. The number of violent crimes against older people rose from 140 in 2001 to 204 in 2002—a rise of 45 per cent. in one year.

We all agree that older people should be able to live safely and securely in their homes and communities, without fear of harassment or attack. The individuals who carry out such attacks are little more than cowards who desperately prey on those cannot defend themselves.

It may be reassuring to learn from the PSNI crime prevention unit that, of almost 31,000 reported incidents, only 6 per cent. were directed against people aged between 50 and 74, and only 0.5 per cent. against people aged over 75. However, although it could thus be argued that older people are actually at low risk of experiencing crime, there is media concern that many crimes against the elderly are unreported.

I welcome the development of the community safety strategy in Northern Ireland and our local community safety partnerships. Families, friends and neighbours have an important role in helping to protect the elderly and in contributing to community safety as a whole. Charities and the voluntary and community sector must be congratulated on their constant work for community safety, especially among the elderly. Over the past 10 years, Help the Aged and Age Concern have developed a range of direct services for older people and initiatives for practitioners. They have promoted a balanced approach for practical measures—personal alarms, free phone advice, bogus-caller buttons and locks and bolts—all of which have their place, but our elderly should not be prisoners in their own homes.

In my constituency, there is a prime example of where the PSNI, the community sector and local government agencies have successfully come together to address the community safety needs of the elderly. In Larne, there were 59 crimes against the elderly between 1 July last year and 30 April, representing 4 per cent. of total crime reported in the district. Burglary and criminal damage are the two main offences committed against the elderly in Larne. There were seven bogus-caller incidents and three robberies, representing less than 1 per cent. of all crime in the district during the period studied.

In part, the success of those community safety results can be seen in the vulnerable persons scheme introduced last September. Lame PSNI, in conjunction with Lame borough council, Age Concern and the Housing Executive, is taking a proactive role in securing the safety of the elderly in their homes through the joint vulnerable persons scheme. It distributes kits, consisting of door latches, security mirrors, attack alarms, to the elderly and others who feel at risk. The kits have proved very successful and more than 500 have been distributed.

The crime prevention officer and community police teams have had numerous face-to-face meetings with local residents and groups to discuss and offer advice on safety. The meetings are very important because they reduce the perception of fear, which is greater than the reality. Indeed, reports of failed bogus-caller attempts have already increased from both communities, who are now co-operating well with the PSNI in my constituency.

The scheme has recently been awarded more than £17,000 from Northern Ireland Office community safety funding to extend the scheme's success, and that is to be welcomed. Larne PSNI has also set about raising awareness of bogus callers by regularly highlighting the issue through the Crimestoppers column in the local press. It is my understanding that, based on that success, the Larne vulnerable persons initiative will be extended across Northern Ireland.

I encourage other local councils—not only in Northern Ireland, but throughout the United Kingdom—to adopt similar schemes to address crime against the more vulnerable members of society. It is time for the Government and society to get tough on those who attack the isolated and vulnerable elderly in our society. I also believe that it is time to revise legislation, with a view to ensuring that enhanced sentences are made available for those who attack and assault the elderly.

I also encourage the elderly in my constituency and elsewhere to contact their local police station or charities, such as Help the Aged and Age Concern, at the first sign of anything that causes them fear or apprehension, in the confident expectation of a prompt response. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to protect the elderly in our communities, and I urge the Government to fund the PSNI adequately so that it can achieve that objective.

3.23 pm
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East)

As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) has returned from his cold soup, may I thank him for his kind invitation to his constituency during the Whitsun break? If hon. Members feel that they cannot make it to Cornwall, they are welcome to join me for a special arts weekend in West Bromwich, organised by the highly regarded Jubilee Arts project, which will include a number of action-packed events and performances during the weekend of 31 May and 1 June.

Hon. Members may know that the arts run deep in West Bromwich. Unfortunately, I am afraid that Mr. Andrew Pierce of The Times did not know that when he wrote last month that West Bromwich has never been regarded as at the cutting-edge of artistic expression", so I should like to take this opportunity to invite him to West Bromwich as well. He might like to join in a scavenger hunt, organised by the artist, Joshua Sofaer, in which teams of four will compete for a £1,000 prize by chasing 100 clues to find the hidden West Bromwich. I hope to take part in that myself.

We in West Bromwich and across the whole black country are trying to transform the perceptions of our area through regeneration. In the next five years, West Bromwich will have a new bus station, a major retail development, a high-tech police headquarters and a new one-stop health centre, and we are undergoing something of a renaissance. I am delighted to say that the centrepiece of that regeneration project will be a new arts and technology centre—the c/Plex centre—which has been organised under the leadership of Sylvia King through Jubilee Arts.

C/Plex is due to open in the summer of 2005 and will house business units, learning facilities, a gallery, an education centre, a conference base and cafes and restaurants. I hope that it will have a premiership football team as well, but it will certainly not be Norwich City. I say that to my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), who is big fan of the Canaries. As well as being a key part of Sandwell's regeneration, the c/Plex project will form a major national centre that will partner the new art gallery in Walsall—again, another great midland arts centre—but hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that there are some problems with funding.

The European Commission has helped to fund the c/Plex project, as part of its energy efficiency budget for buildings and museums. I understand that there are some problems with the funding, and I thank the region's MEPs, who are trying to intervene in Brussels on our behalf, but I hope that the Commission can be persuaded, perhaps by our Government, to continue its financial involvement in that landmark project.

Sandwell will also be the home of the first urban regeneration company in the west midlands, following the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement last month. The new URC will be a reality, and the current redevelopment of West Bromwich town centre could be just the tip of the iceberg for the six towns in Sandwell. Hundreds of millions of pounds of investment will come into the borough, thousands of well-paid jobs will be created and the borough's appearance and economy will be dramatically changed. The URC will breathe new life into a corridor of land shadowing the Midland Metro from Hill Top in Wednesbury, through West Bromwich to Smethwick, and helping to build a successful future for the area—a future in which we can attract more inward investment and become a magnet for jobs and businesses.

All those who have been pushing the project are grateful to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for its support and commitment. We now hope to drive the project forward and learn the lessons from the URCs that have been created in other parts of the country, but we are not just using the big multi-million pound projects to improve the local environment and people's quality of life. The Government's drive to tackle antisocial and yobbish behaviour is also about making our communities better and safer to live in, and in that crusade the Government have the support of the people of West Bromwich, East.

Local people always tell me on the doorstep, at my surgeries, when they stop me in the streets and in their letters and e-mails that they are sick and tired of graffiti. fly tipping, noise, vandalism, the misuse of fireworks and air guns, drunken and loutish behaviour, rubbish and litter on the streets, abandoned cars and neighbours from hell. The problem of noisy fireworks going off, all year round, at all times of the day and night, and the misuse of fireworks by those who are not even old enough to buy them legally seems to have got worse each autumn and winter.

This year things will be different in one important respect. The industry has come together to produce a voluntary code to ban the noisiest fireworks—air bombs—that drive all our constituents to despair. However, in future years, my constituents hope to have far fewer rude awakenings and sleepless nights, thanks to new legislation introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan); the Fireworks Bill is long overdue. I hope that the powers it gives the Government to regulate the noisiest fireworks and to ban their use late at night will be introduced as quickly as possible when those measures reach their completion.

The range of measures contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill will also help to tackle the kind of behaviour that we should not have to tolerate—for example, the misuse of air guns. A seven-year-old boy from the Hamstead area of my constituency—Hamstead, not Hampstead—was nearly blinded by teenagers misusing air weapons. A pellet lodged in Aaron Clarke's eyebrow, just a quarter of an inch from his eye, after he was fired on while playing near his home. Air rifles can seriously injure people, and are a great danger to animals. In fact, the number of attacks on children and animals rose from more than 7,500 in 1997 to more than 10,000 last year. Sandwell Swan Watch, run by Ian Carroll in my constituency, reports a growing number of wild animals and birds being killed by air guns in our area. We must stop that.

In West Bromwich, East, we also welcome the Government's success in increasing police numbers. We want to see more bobbies on the beat, to act as a deterrent against crime and to reduce the fear of crime, especially for the most vulnerable and insecure in our communities. Recruiting more officers is one way of getting more police on the streets, but employing community support officers is another, and we hope for the first tranche of those in the west midlands as soon as possible. The rolling out of fixed penalty notices, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last week, will help to cut bureaucracy and the amount of time officers spend doing paperwork in the police station, when they could be out in the community and on the streets.

I also want to take this opportunity to make a plea for closed circuit television. The tenants association of Hamstead house and Scott house, led by Mr. Reg Hackett, has for many years been pressing for a grant from the local council to improve the security of its homes. I hope that the Government will be able to maintain their support for local CCTV initiatives.

Another initiative is working well in our community: a technological advance in policing, the automatic number plate recognition system. It works—in one afternoon, I saw seven arrests made using the new digital system, including some seriously hard-core criminals such as crack cocaine dealers and people with dangerous and offensive weapons. I hope that the Government continue to support community police initiatives.

I reiterate the offer to all Members to visit West Bromwich; perhaps after a few days in Cornwall, they could drive up the M5 to see us, and they would be very welcome. If they want tickets for the scavenger hunt, I have some leaflets, and they can catch me at the end of this debate.

3.33 pm
Tony Baldry ( (Banbury)

Ministers should be concerned at the growing disillusionment about their ability to deliver public services. It is not just a question of people being cynically concerned about spin over substance; a growing concern exists about betrayed expectations, and there is a loss of confidence in the machinery of government. I want to give two examples from my constituency relating to health and education: Bicester community hospital and funding for schools in Oxfordshire this year. I do not seek to make a partisan political point, as, sadly, my observations could be made in practically any constituency in the country at present.

Almost immediately after coming to power, the Government published a White Paper, "The New NHS", which emphasised the value of community hospitals. Page 41 stated that too often in the past community hospitals have been sidelined. Their potential contribution to managing the pressures of rising emergency admissions has often been ignored. Patients will be able to use local community hospitals to the full rather than having to travel to more distant acute hospitals. The Government's early commitment to community hospitals was especially welcome in Bicester, because it had been clear for many years that our existing community hospital needed expanding, refurbishing and rebuilding.

In 1998, shortly after the Government took office, Oxfordshire health authority undertook a local consultation on the future of community hospitals in Oxfordshire. The health authority claimed that it was anxious to reduce community bed numbers in parts of Oxfordshire, where there was supposedly relatively generous provision, and to increase bed numbers where there was a greater need, such as in Bicester. In short, it wanted to ensure fairness of access to community health services.

In a debate in the House on 3 June 1998, the then Minister of State, now the Secretary of State for Health, said: Two options are being considered by the health authority and the NHS trust. Both options would mean that the 12-bed hospital in Bicester would be replaced by a new 30-bed hospital".—[Official Report, 3 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 346.] The capital and the revenue for the new community hospital at Bicester was going to be realised by closing Burford and Watlington hospitals and reducing the number of beds at five other community hospitals.

The community health council opposed the proposals, so the final decision had to be taken by the Secretary of State. On 24 November 1999, the then Minister of State, now the Secretary of State, wrote to the then chairman of Oxfordshire health authority, Dr. Peter Iredale, confirming the decisions made about the proposed changes to community hospitals in Oxfordshire. What he said in his letter could not have been clearer, more unambiguous or starker: I am delighted to support the development of a new hospital with additional beds at Bicester. However, I have decided to endorse the closure of Burford and Watlington and 18 beds at Abingdon community hospital …I expect the Health Authority, Trusts and Primary Care Groups to work closely to manage the change. Understandably, locally, in Bicester and surrounding areas, there was considerable relief that at last there had been clear ministerial recognition of the need for a new enlarged community hospital in Bicester and a clear and unequivocal commitment that one would be built.

Matters progressed. A planning application was submitted for a new community hospital on the outskirts of Bicester. It is a matter of record that Chesterton parish council objected to that site, as a consequence of which the planning application was called in by the Government to be determined by a planning inspector. There was a public inquiry, as a result of which a different site was identified. Although the delay was extremely frustrating, I, like everyone else in Bicester, assumed that work would go ahead and that in due course, in the not-too-distant-future, Bicester would have a new community hospital. That was the expectation.

The reality is that the Department of Health and NHS officials appear to be reneging on building a new community hospital at Bicester. Matters have come to a head. North East Oxfordshire primary care trust, which is responsible for taking forward the project, has applied to Thames Valley strategic health authority for funds to work up the detailed project costs of building the new hospital. It has been told that there are no funds for that simple, straightforward project work. The response of the Thames Valley strategic health authority is deeply disturbing and seems to indicate that it is clearly reneging on commitments made by Ministers.

We in Bicester, and everyone else in Oxfordshire, thought that the money saved from the sale of Burford and Watlington community hospitals would be recycled into a new community hospital in Bicester—not so, it now seems. Thames Valley strategic health authority says: the fact that those hospitals are closed is now the status quo. Those savings will have been re-invested in the system"— not held in reserve so that they are available for relocation— and will not be affected even if the Bicester development does not go ahead. In other words, the health authority says that any moneys saved previously have been used up elsewhere rather than being earmarked for Bicester community hospital, which means that there is no capital for a new hospital.

As for the running costs, I understand that the health authority has told North East Oxfordshire primary care trust that the NHS will support a community hospital for Bicester only if every other PCT in Oxfordshire makes a commitment to help to meet the cost of running any future community hospital in Bicester. As the health authority put it: Financial contribution from other PCTs depends on them agreeing to changes in patient flows and agreeing with the Acute Trusts that they will switch investment into the expanded primary care facilities at Bicester. It is a totally crazy situation. The NHS is effectively saying that there is neither the money to build a new community hospital in Bicester, nor the money to run an enlarged community hospital even if it were to be built. The hopes of the people of Bicester for a new community hospital are being seriously betrayed. How on earth can that situation be reconciled with the Secretary of State's clear and unequivocal statement in 1999, when he said: I am delighted to support the development of a new hospital with additional beds at Bicester"? I also want to talk about schools' budgets. Expectations were very simple. There was an indication last year that schools' budgets would increase by 6.4 per cent. However, pretty much every school in my constituency is facing a funding crisis. I have received a letter from Bicester community college, a comprehensive school in my constituency with a sixth form. The letter says that the College is £180,000 short of what it needs this year to run everything smoothly at last year's levels. Even after making certain cuts from staffing levels which were set out in the first draft of the budget to account for the rising roll, we are forecasting a deficit for the coming year in the region of £120,000. The letter outlines why the school is in extreme difficulty and says: We are not sure that the government understands that we are already in the current financial year, and even the staff cuts we might be able to make from September will affect only 7/12ths of the year's budget. The letter concludes: We have a commitment to raise standards, and yet, despite a rising roll, will need to cut staff. The government expects schools to implement its workforce reform agenda—and we had some creative plans for doing so in September. Now we have no money to do this, and instead of taking on additional support staff, will need to reduce, hopefully by natural wastage, the number of staff in the school … This is a disappointing picture. It has lowered morale and made sensible planning impossible. The situation is all the more disappointing because this year Oxfordshire has had the "benefit" of damping worth £4.7 million. It will not receive that next year, so it will effectively have a standstill budget, which will make the situation much worse. Head teachers, teachers and governing bodies throughout Oxfordshire are facing the fact that the reality of what the Government deliver is entirely different from their expectations. That has an extremely corrosive effect on any confidence in the machinery of government and Ministers and officials' ability to deliver. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State for Education and Skills simply to blame local authorities, the National Union of Teachers or anyone else who comes into his sights. Ministers must accept that there is a real problem with school funding that must be sorted out.

3.43 pm
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)

Last week the House debated a difficult but vital matter: the suspension of the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly. In an ideal world, I am sure that no one in the House would have wanted the debate, but as we unfortunately do not live in such a world it was essential that the House took the decision that it did.

Holding elections while knowing full well that there was no realistic prospect of forming an Executive, regardless of the outcome of the elections, would have been folly indeed and would have achieved nothing. Indeed, I believe that it would have endangered the whole peace process. Without an Executive, the agreement requires another election to be held within six weeks of the first election. The whole process would have gained a momentum of its own, which would almost certainly have ended in collapse.

There are clearly some people—and some hon. Members—who would have welcomed such a chain of events because they have not supported the process from the very beginning. They might have and honestly hold that view, but I am sure the majority of the people of Northern Ireland neither hold that view nor want such events to happen—quite the reverse. Opinion polls continue to show that the majority of both communities in Northern Ireland support the Good Friday agreement and want it to deliver and work.

This has always been a difficult process and the Assembly has been suspended in the past to ensure that the process is not derailed. Some are depicting the postponement of the elections as if the whole democratic mandate of the Assembly is somehow being undermined or even being cancelled for good. It is not—far from it. It is not an ideal situation, but postponement was the only sensible option open to the Government. The elections will be held, and held as soon as possible. If progress is made, I hope and believe that they could be held in the autumn of this year. Postponement, therefore, is a temporary pause and not a step back or an acknowledgement of failure. However, it allows for more time to complete the vital work that needs to be done.

We should not lose sight of the incredible progress that has been made since the signing of the Good Friday agreement—progress that many would have thought unachievable not so long ago. Indeed, much credit goes to those politicians, including the previous Prime Minister, who took brave and some may say risky decisions and actions to open the door to a peaceful and, I hope, lasting solution to the situation in Northern Ireland. 1 only wish that some of those who sit on the other side of the Chamber would follow that example.

The Government have built on those foundations. The process has been supported by many cross-community groups, and much credit also goes to the trade union movement, which has long bridged the sectarian divide in its support for working people in Northern Ireland. It has not been and could never be an easy process. Difficult decisions and compromises have had to be made, but who could seriously deny that the process was worth going through? It has delivered and is delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. It is not perfect, and I am not saying that people in Northern Ireland are dancing in the streets in support of the agreement. There are still many problems, but that does not mean that those people are not directly benefiting from its success.

Let us remember where we came from. When I was in my youth—believe it or not, that was not as long ago as some Members may think—I recall that news reports on the death of civilians and British soldiers in Northern Ireland were an everyday occurrence. Indeed, such news often appeared well down the reports, because it was such a regular item. The image of Northern Ireland was bleak. It was seen as a place in which companies would be foolish to invest and it would not have been at the top of people's possible holiday destinations or places to visit. It had so much to offer, but its image was tarnished and it was held back by the troubles that had dominated its politics for so long.

Since the Good Friday agreement, we have seen a very different picture. I agree that that does not apply in all areas, but considerable progress has been made in improving people's everyday lives. Let us look at the facts. Unemployment is down from 7.5 to 4.5 per cent. of the work force, the lowest figure since 1975. Importantly, there has been a drop of 65 per cent. in the same period in the number of the long-term unemployed. That is a major achievement. Gross domestic product per head is rising faster than in the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps one of the most telling figures is that manufacturing investment has increased by 15.7 per cent. rather than falling as it has in the UK over the past five years. Again, that is a major achievement. It demonstrates a renewed confidence in the economy in Northern Ireland, a confidence that was clearly lacking before the Good Friday agreement.

As a member of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, I have the pleasure of visiting Northern Ireland on a regular basis. One can clearly see the investment that is going into Belfast and many other areas. That renewed confidence is spreading through all sections and all ages of the community. Even those who disagree with my view of how things have changed since the Good Friday agreement surely cannot deny that there are many people alive today—both civilian and military—who would have been killed or maimed had the agreement not been made and signed. If nothing else, it is surely a success on that basis. However, I believe that it has so much more to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. We now have to do everything in our power to ensure that the agreement delivers that goal, and the suspension is just one step and one part of the process. Last week's legislation, therefore, gave us some breathing space to clinch and to close the final gaps that exist.

The IRA's recent statement is a major step forward. It is a statement that few would have believed possible before the signing of the Good Friday agreement. However, further clarification is needed. The IRA needs to spell out clearly, without any doubt or question, exactly what it means. An end to paramilitary activity must mean exactly that.

We have seen great progress. However, we cannot ignore the fact that while we have not seen the headline-type of attacks, there have continued to be punishment beatings and related activities taking place in the communities of Northern Ireland. That must not and cannot continue. Equally, if paramilitary activity is at an end, there can be no question of carrying out training, surveillance or the targeting of individuals. Clearly there can be no question of buying arms, or seeking to buy them. All that must stop.

To move the process on, the IRA needs to make clear, and spell out in detail, exactly what it means by an end to paramilitary activity. If that is achieved, I believe that genuine progress can be made, and we can move the agreement forward so that elections can be held as soon as possible. When these elections are held, I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will look to embrace the opportunities that the agreement offers and not return to the conflict and suspicions of the past.

We are at a crossroads, but we have been at a number of crossroads in the past. By the sheer determination of all the parties involved that want to find a solution, a solution has been found and we have moved on further. We can do that again. Let us not go back. Too much has been achieved to throw everything away. I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the troubles of the past. Many people, including politicians, and political parties, deserve credit for their courage and determination in achieving what we have achieved so far. I appeal to those who have for so long sat on the sidelines and have sought to make political capital out of the agreement's difficulties and problems to play a full part in its implementation and to embrace the opportunities that it offers. Only in that way will we have a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

3.52 pm
Bob Russell (Colchester)

I shall talk about cystic fibrosis and prescription charges. People with certain medical conditions are exempt from paying prescription charges, and the list of these conditions was drawn up in 1968 when, sadly, most of those with cystic fibrosis died as children. Children, plus people older than 60, as well as those on means-tested benefit, were, and still are, also exempt from paying prescription charges. So in 1968 the charges were not an issue of particular importance to those affected by cystic fibrosis. Fortunately, the outlook for those with cystic fibrosis has improved markedly over the past 35 years and most live until adulthood, although still with a considerably reduced life expectancy compared with the population as a whole.

However, adults with cystic fibrosis have to pay prescription charges. Most of them are 30 years of age or younger and often they are not earning high salaries as health considerations have affected their education and employment prospects. They and their families bitterly resent having to pay for drugs for this life-threatening disease, without which they would soon deteriorate rapidly.

The situation is made worse when sufferers of cystic fibrosis learn that others get free prescriptions for conditions that do not seem as serious as CF. That is even worse when we know that the national health service funds those who deliberately inject themselves with illegal drugs and other substances. The NHS funds and treats people with self-afflicted conditions but does not help those to whom mother nature did not deal the cards of life very fairly.

Once a person is on the exempt list they get free prescriptions for everything, including routine complaints such as coughs and colds. Cystic fibrosis patients have to pay for all of their prescriptions unless they develop diabetes, which is a complication of the disease that affects about 15 per cent. of CF patients. However, 85 per cent. of cystic fibrosis patients do not have diabetes; many eventually die, usually of lung disease, without ever developing diabetes. Therefore, they are never exempt from prescription charge payments as a result of their condition.

Some adults with cystic fibrosis are exempt from prescription charges for other reasons, such as those still in higher education, those on income support, those too ill to work and those on very low incomes. Some who are in receipt of state benefits such as disability living allowance still have to pay prescription charges.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust believes that all adults with CF should be exempt from prescription charges for the following reasons: CF is a life-threatening medical condition for which daily medication is essential; adults with CF are often considerably disadvantaged in economic terms by their condition, and further financial hardship is caused by having to pay prescription charges; and for adults with CF who are in financial difficulty, there is a danger that having to pay for prescriptions may act as a disincentive to take essential treatment.

It is illogical and unjust that others with similar or less serious conditions are exempt from prescription charges, whereas those with cystic fibrosis are not. CF meets the requirements laid down by the British Medical Association in 1968 and accepted by the Government as criteria for exemption. Specifically, the conditions to be included on the exempt list should be readily identifiable conditions, which in virtually all cases call automatically for prolonged continuous medication". CF fulfils all those conditions exactly. The only reason that it was not included on the list in 1968 is that as all children were exempt from prescription charges that included all those with CF at that time.

Mr. Watson

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his early-day motion 1, which has been signed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. He is exposing an anomaly. It may be helpful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office to be reminded that it was a commitment in the 1997 Labour party manifesto that we would abolish prescription charges.

Bob Russell

I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention and for drawing attention to early-day motion 1, which has been signed by 146 right hon. and hon. Members. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the leading role that he has played in drawing attention to the anomaly.

As children with the condition rarely lived beyond childhood, there were no adults with cystic fibrosis to exempt in 1968, so their case was not considered at that time. The Government should act now, as the case is clear-cut and just. When in opposition, the Labour party indicated its intention of reviewing prescription charges. Indeed, it went further, and in its consultative document of 1994 entitled "Labour 2000", it used CF as an example of current injustices that it intended to put right and stated:

We will seek to provide free medication as part of on-going treatment for long-term requirements. For example, those suffering from Cystic Fibrosis who reach adulthood should not have to rely on some other category, such as diabetes, in order to obtain free prescriptions. However, the Labour Government, now in their second term, have not yet honoured that commitment. The issue of prescription charges was considered in the Government's initial comprehensive spending review, but in November 1998 the then Minister of State, now elevated to the position of Secretary of State for Health, wrote to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust:

The list of medical conditions conferring prescription charge exemption was introduced in 1968 after being agreed in discussion with the medical profession and no clear consensus for extending it has since emerged. In March this year the Welsh Assembly announced the setting up of a review group to examine the existing arrangements for charges, exemptions and remissions, with a view to exploring the possibility of adding some chronic conditions, including cystic fibrosis, to a list of exemptions for Wales. For the past two years the Welsh Assembly has exempted all young people under the age of 25 from prescription charges. If that is good enough for Wales, it is good enough for England.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has consulted extensively with consultants caring for CF patients, with CF adults and their families, and with professional bodies involved in health care. All those consulted agree that CF meets the criteria for inclusion in the exempt list. It must be assumed, therefore, that the Government have received no advice from any professional body that it would be inappropriate to include CF on the exempt list. It would seem, then, that the lack of clear consensus refers to other medical conditions.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust does not accept that an adjustment to the exempt list could not or should not be made for cystic fibrosis because of a lack of consensus on other conditions. The case for including cystic fibrosis on the exempt list is made and accepted. It is wrong to continue to discriminate against young adults who clearly meet the criteria of the exempt list, but may not be covered by any other category of exemption. The cost to the national health service would be minimal, at less than £100,000 a year, in comparison with a drugs bill of £6.6 billion.

It is estimated that about 7,500 people have cystic fibrosis in the UK, of whom about 3,000 are aged 18 or over. Roughly one third of those are in higher education and another third are too ill to work, which leaves about 1,000 people who have to pay prescription charges. As they have the option of paying by item or by season ticket, most people pay using annual or four-monthly season tickets. That involves a pre-payment of £90.40 for a year or £32.90 for four months. The total cost of including cystic fibrosis patients in the exempt list would therefore be about £88,000 a year—or, to put it another way, less than David Beckham gets each week.

The time for excuses and fudging is over. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust is hard pressed to meet its commitments on research both to improve symptom control and to make progress on the gene therapy work that, it is hoped, will lead to a cure for cystic fibrosis while it is also subsiding the NHS. The trust's research commitments alone account for more than £5 million a year. In addressing the problems of clinical care, almost £1 million a year is given back to the NHS to pay for doctors, nurses and other clinicians. The trust is also addressing the problem of unacceptable wards in respect of in-patient provision for many young adults with cystic fibrosis, and it is working to bring cystic fibrosis care in the UK up to acceptable standards.

The trust wants to help and is prepared to co-operate positively and constructively with the Government, but a charity cannot arid should not be expected to do the job of the NHS or of the Government. The current arrangements for prescription charges for adults with cystic fibrosis are demonstrably unjustifiable. Those charges should be abolished. The Government should remedy the situation, both because the case is just and to honour the promise that they made when they were in opposition.

4.2 pm

Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

I should like to start with my interest in the situation in the middle east and Cyprus. According to the latest census, the London borough of Redbridge has the third highest Jewish population in the country. On behalf of my Jewish constituents, I raised anxieties about the security and future of Israel with the Foreign Secretary on 28 April. I welcome the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian Prime Minister, but I am still worried about whether the will exists in the Arab world and Israel to follow the road map to a peaceful settlement within the given time frame. I have grave doubts about the likelihood of progress while Yasser Arafat retains any power or influence. I had a meeting with Mr. Arafat about five years ago; I did not believe then—and I am not persuaded now—that he is genuine about achieving a resolution of the conflict.

This Government and Prime Minister are friends of Israel. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have always strongly condemned the terror to which the Jewish state is continually subjected in its struggle for existence. I commend the Prime Minister for taking a lead in persuading the US Administration to commit to pursuing the path to peace in the middle east.

As for Cyprus, I am one of the lead signatories of early-day motion 1116, which welcomes the opening of the green line on 23 April, when Cypriots separated for almost three decades proved to themselves and the wider world that, as Cypriots, they have so much in common. I and my Greek and Turkish Cypriot constituents and Friends of Cyprus, which has campaigned for so long for peace and reconciliation in Cyprus, are more hopeful than we have been for years that we will see not only the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU in 2004, but the real prospect of an end to the heartbreak of partition of that beautiful island, so that all Cypriots can look forward to a prosperous future within the family of European states.

On domestic issues, I am glad to see some of the results of extra Government funding for public services in my local area. I recently opened a children's information service centre at the Hainault Forest Community Association, of which I am president. Last week, my local paper, the Ilford Recorder, reported a £400,000 Government award to provide an additional 131 nursery places in the borough, including a project with Barnado's—its headquarters is in my constituency—which will receive £92,000 to provide 51 extra nursery places. I am pleased and proud to support the excellent work of Barnado's, and am leading its campaign in Parliament against child prostitution. My early-day motion now has 236 signatures, and I urge more hon. Members to sign it. A Home Office Minister told me last week that the Department has been deluged with letters of support for the campaign from members of the public.

Extra investment in fighting crime and disorder and the excellent work of Chief Superintendent Michael Johnson and Superintendent Bryan Horsley, the new partnership leading Redbridge's police, resulted last year in reductions in street crime, auto crime, residential burglaries and gun-related violent crime. Street wardens are in place in my local area, and we look forward to the allocation of community support officers to help make our borough a safer place. Another candidate for extra investment is the Crossrail project, which is of enormous importance to east London. The loss in the first part of the year of the Central line tube service, which seriously inconvenienced many of my constituents and me, illustrated the urgent need for transport improvements for existing commuters as well as the need to contribute to the regeneration of the Thames gateway. A favourable "in principle" Government decision is needed urgently so that Crossrail can come closer to being realised.

Health services have been a major beneficiary of extra public funding. King George hospital in Ilford, which most of my constituents use, is opening a new urology centre and developing an angiography suite, allowing patients to be treated locally, rather than having to travel to other London hospitals. Whipps Cross hospital, which my Woodford constituents attend, met all NHS targets in April for in-patients and out-patients, including 90 per cent. of accident and emergency admissions being treated within four hours, thus becoming the most improved hospital in the UK for that target. The emergency medical centre will soon be completed, improvements have been made to the maternity ward, and there is an ambitious project to redevelop the whole hospital.

In primary care, the reconfiguration of local primary care trusts within borough boundaries has presented some challenges, but the Redbridge PCT is moving ahead with improvements to speech and language therapy services, an issue of particular concern to parents of children with special needs. Waiting times for GP and podiatry appointments are being cut. My local medical centre in Hainault is to be part of the LIFT—local improvement finance trust—programme to expand and improve health and community services to one of the most deprived areas of the borough. Those improvements are making a real difference to people's lives.

Locally and nationally, the Tories complain about Government funding while promising to cut public spending, but they refuse to take responsibility for their own policies. For example, the Tory council in Redbridge is proposing a hike in the cost of home care by 100 per cent. in some cases. Disabled, widowed 87-year old Lena Odgers of Barkingside faces an increase of £70 a week. Showing the true spirit of the party of the poor and vulnerable, local Tories have described these swingeing rises of up to £100 a week as "affordable".

Whoever the Tories are purporting to represent this week, in the past six years the Labour Government have proved that they represent the entire nation by achieving increased support for the poorest and a business climate far superior to the boom and bust of the Tory years. Speaking to the CBI this week, the Chancellor commented on his budgetary strategy and highlighted the reforms that reflect the modern role of Government. His recent Budget introduced new rights for working people, including paternity pay, enhanced maternity rights and a review of pay, training and employment needs of 16 to 19-year-olds. I am glad that the new deal 25-plus gateway to work pilot will run in my constituency. An extension to the new deal 50-plus is planned, but I urge the Chancellor and other Ministers to keep under constant review measures to meet the needs and aspirations of older jobseekers.

I was also glad to hear of the Chancellor's intention to remove more than 500 regulations introduced by previous Governments. The last Conservative Government introduced more than 3.000 regulations in each of their last three years in office. However, I would advise against any dogmatic response either for or against regulation. My own attempts at legislation on age discrimination and corporate social responsibility have taught me that the voluntary approach can achieve results, but less scrupulous companies and directors will always need a legislative bottom line before they recognise their responsibilities.

Although I was disappointed by the decision in the Budget to raise the price of cigarettes only by the annual rate of inflation, I pay tribute to the seriousness with which the Government have treated the need to improve public health by reducing the number of people who start and continue to smoke, but more has to be done, including banning smoking in the workplace and in public places in general. I commend the action that is taking place in my area, including the "Together" initiative and the assistance offered by local pharmacies to help smokers to give up that death-dealing habit.

As secretary of the all-party group on ageing and older people, I am delighted, as is the Redbridge Pensioners Action Association, with the announcements about the abolition of the reduction of pension entitlement to pay for hospital care and the increase in the winter fuel allowance for people over 80. As my parents and parents-in-law are aged between 80 and 88, that measure is a cause for family celebration.

The Government would not be able to propose those excellent changes in the Budget and to increase investment in public services were it not for their achievement over the past six years in maintaining a robust economy. The Labour Government have not only provided the foundation for establishing and sustaining strong communities and public service improvements, but made available the means to tackle poverty and deprivation in developing countries.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Are you aware that given the number of remaining speakers and the time available, if every Member took seven minutes, every Member would be able to speak?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

I am sure that Members will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. and will perhaps respond.

4.12 pm
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford)

Before I commence my speech, I should like to respond to comments made by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami). As hon. Members might expect, I do not agree with his sentiments. I find it rather patronising that he should think that he is in a position to know what is best for the people of Northern Ireland and therefore try to justify the cancellation of democratic elections. If he is so sure that the majority of people in Northern Ireland support the Belfast agreement, let us have elections immediately.

This Parliament is regarded as the cradle of democracy, yet within recent weeks this House was prepared to abort a democratic election in Northern Ireland because it was unhappy with the probable outcome. Democratic elections conflicted with Government policy on Northern Ireland, and Government policy took precedence. A famed political author once wrote: The right of election is the essence of the constitution". In their generation, statesmen such as Edmund Burke spoke out against the manipulation of parliamentary procedure in restraining the people's right to elect their own representatives. More than two centuries later, in May 1997, the Prime Minister appeared to endorse that position, stating: What the electorate gives, the electorate can take away. Unfortunately for the electorate in Northern Ireland, they will not now have the chance to elect the representatives whom they see fit to speak on their behalf. Nor will they be given the opportunity to express their opinions on the Belfast agreement, which has been disastrous for the application of democracy in Northern Ireland. As with so many promises and pledges that the Prime Minister has made, that one, too, has been forgotten or simply discarded.

In the face of international pressure to preserve the integrity of democracy in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister bowed to the pleading of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who came to him, cap in hand, asking him to abort the election. In the face of overwhelming support for an election from both sections of the community in Northern Ireland, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and the Prime Minister contrived to rob the people of their democratic right to elect those whom they believe best represent their views, and to remove their right to influence the way in which their country should be governed.

The Prime Minister has now separated himself from the democratic world and joined the infamous ranks of dictators in moving to prevent the application of democracy through free elections. One is reminded of former Argentine premier Juan Peron, who came to power in a landslide election only to take on the role of dictator. As Peron put it: We are no longer interested in elections, except as a means to reach our objectives". Is not our Prime Minister emulating that doctrine by his action in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister tells us that because elections on 29 May would not provide the outcome he wanted, there was no point in holding them. He asked: What would be the point of holding an election if a government could not be set up afterwards? The answer is simple: to provide politicians in Northern Ireland with a mandate to negotiate. Twice in recent years, the Government held elections in the Province to establish who had the mandate to negotiate and to determine the strength of each party's viewpoint.

The democratic authority of Assembly Members has expired. The term of office and the mandate that they were given in 1998 is now spent. In the past five years, the Government have sought to have it both ways in Northern Ireland. They have attempted to create a society in which democracy and terrorism operate in parallel. Of course, that is practically and intellectually impossible.

Democracy will never flourish in any country where terrorism is lauded and rewarded. The Government say that they would eventually like elections to take place, but only when the outcome is likely to concur with their political agenda. At every stage of the struggle, democracy has come out second best. The people of Northern Ireland have been relegated to the status of Europe's democratic backwoodsmen.

The Prime Minister told the world that elections had been aborted because of a lack of clarity by Sinn Fein-IRA on future acts of terrorism. Five years ago, he told the people of Northern Ireland: Those who use or threaten violence will be excluded from the government of Northern Ireland". Sinn Fein-IRA activity has continued unabated since 1998, yet at no stage did the Government move to support the exclusion of IRA-Sinn Fein from government. The Belfast agreement is founded on providing concessions to terrorists in return for a tactical restriction on terrorist activity.

If the Government seriously believe that IRA-Sinn Fein behaviour has prevented elections, why did not the Prime Minister hang them out to dry? Why not say, "No. The people of Northern Ireland have had enough of your double dealing. There is no place in government for you until you completely disband, disarm and disown violence, but democratic parties will not be punished for your bad behaviour"?

Although we are told that IRA-Sinn Fein have not done enough to allow an election to take place, they appear to have done enough to be gifted the concessions in the joint declaration that were supposed to be conditional on IRA acts of completion. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann, who is the leader of a segment of the Ulster Unionist party, claims to be taking a hard line against the concessions that we now discover he already agreed to at Hillsborough.

The time has come for the electorate of Northern Ireland, so long denied the opportunity to cast their vote, to have their say. For five years, those of us who have respectably, justifiably, democratically and effectively opposed the Belfast agreement have been marginalised and rebuked. We were dispatched to the political dugout by the press and the Government alike. Those whom we represent and those who would have us represent them were to be ignored and denied a voice. None the less, we decided democratically to enter the institution that we opposed and to argue for change. We have been so successful that we now command support from the majority of Unionist voters, yet the Government deny us a democratic means of effecting change. Have they thought what alternatives that leaves?

Much is made of suspect polls carried out by local newspapers and TV stations, so I would ask the Government to publish the findings of their own poll that prompted the cancellation of the election. What kind of policy is it that cannot survive the outcome of an election or which will wither, should the light of democracy fall upon it? There is only one way to gauge the feelings of people in Northern Ireland and that is to hold elections and to let the people speak. The election for the Assembly was to have taken place on 1 May; the Government then postponed it until 29 May. Now they say that they hope it can take place in the autumn.

The truth is that the Prime Minister will allow only an election that he thinks will deliver the result that he wants. This is similar to his attitude to a referendum on the euro. The Government need to come to terms with the reality that the Belfast agreement is dead; it has failed and it cannot be saved. A new deal is needed, and the sooner the process of negotiation starts, the better. The Government cannot run away from the electorate for ever. It is time to let the people speak.

4.21 pm
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak, albeit briefly, in this afternoon's Adjournment debate. The subject that I wish to bring to the attention of right hon. and hon. Members—and, indeed, the country as a whole—is article 17 of the Warsaw convention. I am sure that a lot of Members will be thinking, "What on earth is he talking about?" but in fact, this is a crucial convention that every Member in the House and most members of the public should be clear about, because they will find it on the back of every airline ticket that they buy.

It is particularly appropriate to be discussing this just before the Whitsun recess, because I am sure that a lot of people will soon be setting off to Heathrow airport to take holidays abroad. In fact, I have just received a message on my pager from the Government Whips telling me to give myself an extra hour if I wish to head to Heathrow, because there are considerable traffic jams on the approach to the airport.

The convention was drawn up in 1929 to govern the liability of air carriers internationally. It was drawn up at a time when air travel was in its infancy, and still a novel form of travel. People hardly ever travelled by air in those days—certainly not commercially—but the rules that were put together that long ago still govern the liability on air carriers today. That has resulted in an absurd anomaly. Airline companies have no legal liability whatever for the health, welfare or psychological well-being of their passengers. I stress this because I am sure that most Members of the House and members of the public will not be familiar with this information.The absurdity of this anomaly is that airline companies have a statutory liability and obligation towards the welfare, health and well-being of the animals that they carry. They have a duty to provide animals with enough room, to feed and water them properly, and to ensure that they get exercise, yet they have no duty whatever towards the human beings whom they carry on their planes.

Air travel is now the fastest growing mode of transport in the world: 55 million people a year travel abroad from this country alone. Every time those people get on to a plane, they put their lives at risk. It is not the risk of accident or injury, as common sense might suggest; the greatest risk that they face is to their health and their welfare. They have entered an environment that is both completely artificial and completely controlled by the airline company, but the airline company has no responsibility whatsoever for their welfare.

Airline companies do not just control where and how passengers sit. Today American Airlines, the biggest carrier in the world, announced its decision to cram even more people on to its aircraft because of its severe economic problems. I know of those problems, but the fact remains that people's health and even their lives are being put at risk. They are being forced to sit, unable to move, for long periods, which leaves them open to the common condition of air travel-related thromboembolic disease.

Mr. Tyler

As the hon. Gentleman may know, I supported his effective campaign relating to, in particular, deep vein thrombosis. I have also looked into the important issue of air quality in aircraft cabins. There is no proper exchange of information about that, and no analysis of what may have gone wrong in many cases throughout the world. International references to such problems are totally inaccurate.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right. Many people in this country are dying unnecessarily from a condition that goes largely undiagnosed, and on which the clinical profession remains silent.

Flying poses other threats to health. As I have said, airlines control not just where and how people sit—that can involve prolonged periods of inertia and apathy—but the food that they eat and the very air that they breathe. Twenty years ago the air going into aircraft was fresh air, but that has not been the case since the mid-1980s. Now the companies control the amount of oxygen in the air and the temperature in cabins. There is evidence that passengers risk contracting airborne diseases, SARS being the current worldwide problem. Article 17, however, exempts the companies from any liability. In effect it is a licence to kill, and it needs to be changed.

Only limited evidence is available to us, because unfortunately no statistical studies have been conducted. The World Health Organisation's current research will not be conclusive or definitive, because of the 9 billion euro shortfall in the funds it needs to be able to reveal to us the full extent and cause of deep vein thrombosis among air travellers. We should be in no doubt, however—because no serious clinician doubts— that there is a direct correlation between long periods of inertia on aircraft and the deaths of passengers.

Professor John Scurr estimates that one in 10 passengers who travel long haul—for more than four hours—develop blood clots, while 43 per cent. of those people develop deep vein thrombosis. Such a thrombosis can be dislodged, move to the lungs and kill a person. That happened in the sad case of Sara Newman, aged 29, of which Members may have read in the national press last week. It is the second case I have encountered of a 29-year-old woman travelling across the Atlantic and developing deep vein thrombosis. In the other case, although the thrombosis was almost fatal, the woman—was—thank God—saved.

Article 17 is absurd, and must be changed. People are dying unnecessarily. Although airline tickets imply otherwise, people cannot insure themselves against death, serious injury or loss of income resulting from deep vein thrombosis developed during flights.

This is a serious matter of public concern. Today I wish merely to flag it up, to say that this absurd provision must be changed, and to conclude that if any Government in the world should be embarking on negotiations to change it, it is the British Government The British Government happen to have a first-class record in leading the international field on air health issues.

4.30 pm
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

Before the House adjourns for the Whitsun recess, I have a number of constituency points that I wish to raise, all of which arise from the Government's complete failure to deliver on their promises. Ministers are arguing with each other, No. 10 and No. 11 have fallen out big time—I understand that they no longer share cups of sugar—and the Government's failure to have a referendum on the European constitution is an absolute disgrace. I am delighted that the Daily Mail, enterprisingly, will conduct a ballot on Thursday 12 June, so that everyone in the country will be able to vote on the issue.

I want to begin with education. What is happening in education is typical of a Labour Government, in that socialism is having one's hand in someone else's pocket. In 1997, Labour used the phrase "education, education, education." In Southend, we have had a 6.6 per cent. increase in funding for schools, most of which has gone towards special educational needs, but the estimated increase in costs is 9.5 per cent. Education Ministers have got the civil service working overtime putting out letters to Members of Parliament, pretending that things are not quite as bad as they actually are. This is absolute nonsense, because all our schools have had the money given to them taken away through teachers' salaries and pension costs.

The excellent chairman of secondary heads in Southend, Mr. Frank Keenan, has written to heads about the existence of a shortfall of between £80,000 and £200,000 per secondary school. In fact, for some the shortfall is as bad as £400,000, which means that any number of options will have to be cut. Many of our excellent primary schools have written to me, pointing out that they face cuts of as much as £70,000 to £80,000, the average figure being £50,000. Essex county council faces a cut of £7.6 million. This is simply not good enough. The Government are trying to hoodwink us into believing that they are putting more money into education, but in fact they are taking it away.

The second issue that I want to discuss is crime. On Monday, I attended an emergency meeting of Leigh crime prevention panel, which was chaired by the excellent councillor, Mrs. Gwen Horrigan.

Bob Russell

Is she a Tory?

Mr. Amess

Yes, she is a Conservative councillor. Southend has a wonderful Conservative-controlled council, which was re-elected on the first Thursday in May. The meeting was attended by certain senior police officers, members of the neighbourhood watch and others. My point is that there is a crisis throughout the country, but particularly in Essex, in terms of disparity in police pay. Metropolitan police officers get £6,000 more than Southend officers, who are consequently leaving to join the Met. The haemorrhaging of officers is particularly severe in Thurrock, Harlow, Basildon and Castle Point.

In April, the Government suggested that our police forces should reduce overtime by 5 per cent. during the next three years. That is having a huge impact on our efforts to contain the unfortunate problems that we all face in our constituencies with criminality. It is no good Labour Members suggesting that that is not the case; they always seem to be saying that they have problems, while pretending that the Government are doing something about them. The Government are certainly letting the general public down on pay and conditions for our wonderful policewomen and men, who are doing an excellent job in Southend. I ask the Minister to try to do something about pay for Met officers and the cut in overtime.

My next point is about the health service. There are several single-handed general practitioners in Southend. They do an excellent job, though they are still reeling from the way in which the Prime Minister insulted them at Prime Minister's Question Time last summer, when he suggested that they were not ideally suited to continue on their own. That is not the case.

About 75 per cent. of the health budget now goes through the primary care trust, and I am disappointed at the failure of my PCT to deliver. I have also noted a huge disparity in what local GPs are paid per patient. One GP who came to see me has 3,563 patients and receives £8.48 per patient, but another doctor in another part of the town receives more than £18. That is not the result of differences in the work that they perform, which makes the disparity more serious.

Another issue relating to the behaviour of the local primary care trust was brought to my attention by an excellent local GP, Dr. Lawrence Singer. On the corner of the next street, a local GP with many patients retired. It is the duty of the primary care trust to write to all the patients and offer them a choice about whose list they wanted to join. That did not happen in this case. The doctor was initially—insultingly—offered 17, an offer that was later withdrawn. The PCT completely failed in its duty to offer choice to patients.

Mobile phones are the next subject that I want to discuss. Yet again the Government singularly fail to do anything about problems caused by mobile phones. People drive around with mobile phones stuck to their ears, the law is not being enforced and there is hardly a public building or rooftop in my little urban constituency of Southend, West, that is not having one of those blessed poles installed on it. The latest one was at 839 London road, opposite two schools. Everyone protested, helped by the excellent leadership of Mr. Ian Robertson. I have a petition containing more than 500 signatures, but absolutely nothing gets done. We had little tea parties downstairs in our dining rooms, organised by Hutchinson, Orange and the rest. I attend them faithfully. They know my position, but nothing at all changes. Apparently, the London marine underwriting agency has some responsibility for the London road development. It failed in its duty. As usual, it is a case of passing the buck. We have debated relevant issues in the House and I remain convinced that there is a cancer risk, but the Government fail to do anything about it.

I have the honour to be the chairman of the all-party rheumatoid arthritis group. The excellent Ailsa Bosworth is the chair for the whole country. A survey of problems suffered by people with rheumatoid arthritis was recently published. Other hon. Members and I are shortly to visit Guy's hospital and a hospital in Sidcup to examine the facilities first hand. The summary tells us that diagnosis, referral and waiting lists for patients with rheumatoid arthritis are poor as judged against Government targets. About 40 per cent. of patients believe that they do not have access to the best treatment. Many people with rheumatoid arthritis do not have access to services that they need, such as occupational therapies, physiotherapies and hydrotherapy. Once again, the Government are letting people down.

My final point relates to a constituent who is in prison awaiting trial in Egypt. I am delighted to say that, at long last, a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador has been arranged for myself, the hon. Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for East Ham (Mr. Timms) and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on 3 June. 1 hope that justice will be done. The trial has been postponed again until the middle of June. I hope that it will be a happy Whitsun for my constituent and others awaiting trial in Egypt.

4.39 pm
Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

When Parliament reconvenes after the Whitsun recess, it will be visited by the Richard commission, which is not terribly well known. The commission will take evidence on a matter that may not be of immediate concern to many of my constituents but which is none the less important—the way in which democracy operates in Wales under the National Assembly.

I am proud to be part of a ruling party that has introduced a substantial measure of devolution to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The National Assembly is a recognition of Wales's separate national identity, and represents a genuine attempt to create a more democratic society there.

The commission chaired by Lord Ivor Richard has two tasks. First, it will assess the current state of play, and determine whether the Assembly should have extra powers—and especially whether it should have primary legislative powers. Secondly, it will assess the electoral arrangements, which are rather complicated and involve the additional member system and the application of the d'Hondt system.

I am very concerned about the view of some members of the chattering classes in Wales. In particular, people in the academic community have shown some disdain for the Welsh model of devolution. Their opinions should not go unrefuted. Although devolution in the UK is not symmetrical, being somewhat a la carte—Scotland has a Parliament, Wales an Assembly—I believe that the present settlement in Wales is entirely sustainable.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Gareth Thomas

I will give way to my hon. Friend, as I know that he takes an interest in these matters.

Llew Smith

Does my hon. Friend accept that just about the only reason given for establishing the Welsh Assembly was that Wales had become a quango state? It was necessary to rectify that wrong by making what was called a "bonfire of the quangos." Research that I and some others have done shows that there are now just as many quangos in Wales as when the Assembly was first set up. Moreover, the amalgamation of quangos and the formation of bodies such as ELWa mean that the quango state is even more powerful. The only reason for a Welsh Assembly was to make a bonfire of the quangos, but no one has struck a match yet. Will my hon. Friend explain the reason for continuing with the institution?

Gareth Thomas

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I admire and respect his views, even though I do not always agree with him. The process of democratising Wales and getting rid of the many quangos that blighted our democracy has a long way to go. I therefore agree that more of a bonfire is needed, but my point is that the present settlement is sustainable. Primary legislative powers are retained here in Westminster, but the Assembly has a wide range of powers in connection with administration and secondary legislation, and it controls the very large budgets conferred on it by this Labour Government. The Welsh block has increased very considerably over the past six years, which has meant massive extra investment in public services such as health and education.

My point is that the current arrangements are working satisfactorily. The Assembly is a new institution, and it needs time to bed in. Importantly and significantly, the Welsh model of devolution was endorsed by the people of Wales: first, when the general election manifesto commitment of the Labour party received the approval of the people; and, secondly, in the yes vote—albeit narrow—in the referendum held in 1997.

For the avoidance of doubt, I played an active part in the devolution campaign and remain a strong supporter of the Assembly. It has genuinely added value to the administration of Wales. It has brought decision making much closer to the people of Wales and given Wales the opportunity to develop its own policies. I am pleased that my colleague, Alun Pugh, the Labour Assembly Member for my constituency, was returned. He is now the Minister for Culture, Sport and Welsh Language.

Welsh is widely spoken in my constituency, even though we are close to the English border. Within 15 minutes, one can be in the large conurbations of Chester or Merseyside. I am pleased that the Welsh language has revived. The decline in the number of Welsh speakers has been halted and, for the first time, there is a substantial increase. That is a tribute to the cross-party support for the language in Wales. The Welsh language remains the strongest Celtic language—long may that continue.

The present administrative system is sustainable; it is working satisfactorily. Primary legislative power for Wales should remain here. Devolution is a process, not an event, but only in the limited sense that the Government of Wales Act 1998 envisaged that further secondary legislative powers would be conferred on Wales as a natural consequence. Primary legislation should be drafted so that it gives proper discretion to the Welsh Assembly to develop its own policy solutions.

It is essential that Home Office and policing powers remain here in Westminster where they are dealt with satisfactorily. Wales and England are inseparable in terms of their legal system and courts service.

There is room for improvement in the proportional representation system. In my constituency, it led to the rather perverse result that every candidate from the four main parties was returned to the Assembly. My colleague was returned under the first-past-the-post system, but the three defeated candidates were returned under the list system, because they held favourable positions in their party's regional lists. Such a result discredits the PR system.

Although the present arrangements are sustainable, we need to work on them. We need especially to reduce hospital waiting lists in Wales. The Assembly should use its existing powers to the full to deliver for the people of Wales.

4.48 pm
Bob Spink (Castle Point)

May I start with a pleasant bedtime story? On 1 May, when the good people of Castle Point went to bed their council had a strong Labour majority. When they woke up the next morning, there were 39 Conservative councillors and only two Labour councillors remained.

The people of Castle Point showed good judgment. That does not surprise me, because Castle Point is a special community. It is a great place to live, with historic buildings, such as the ninth-century St. Mary's church in Benfleet, Hadleigh castle, overlooking the magnificent Thames estuary, and the wonderful Dutch cottages on Canvey Island.

Castle Point people are wonderful. They are hardworking, self-reliant, enterprising and energetic. They deserve a decent environment in which to live, and that is a problem; they do not have one. They are plagued by bad smells-by an awful odour, which is getting much worse. [Interruption.] It is all very well for Labour Members to laugh, but for my constituents it is not a laughing matter. The Environment Agency described the smell as extremely pungent, nauseating and unpleasant"— a bit like the Labour Government, really. It includes sulphurous gases and causes serious anxiety and stress to my constituents. I congratulate the local newspapers on their battles to raise this issue on behalf of residents. They have done splendid work. In particular, I wish to mention the Yellow Advertiser campaign, "Stop the Smells".

Castle Point borough council is doing all that it can, but the smell emanates from a source not in Castle Point, so it is limited in what it can do and the Environment Agency must take the lead in the solution. I congratulate the borough council and Mr. Alan Longford, the environmental health director, and his staff on what they do for the people, but the Environment Agency could and should have done things years before to prevent the problem from arising now and to monitor and identify the sources of the smell and provide a contingency plan in the event of such smells occurring again. None of that has been done, but it should have been because I raised the problem in the 1990s when I sat on the Government Benches.

My recent written question reveals that the Environment Agency has recorded 562 recent complaints, which shows how serious the matter is. Last week, the Environment Agency promised me that it would write to all the residents who have complained to it this week, but letters have not yet been sent and I call for them to be rushed out urgently so that people know is happening with this very serious problem.

I have raised the issue in an early-day motion and several interventions in the Chamber and with the borough council, the Environment Agency and neighbouring colleagues. In fact, next Tuesday, I will visit the Cleanaway site, where the problem exists, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), who is doing excellent work—I congratulate him on it—not only on the recent problem of the smell, but on the longer-term issues about what has been tipped at Pitsea, what material is held there, what dangers to health the materials may pose and how best to remove any problems. My hon. Friend and I are calling for an independent assessment of the risks to public health from the operation at the Pitsea site, and I hope that the Government will provide such an assessment, with the emphasis on independence.

The Environment Agency has not yet taken the proper, necessary action. According to the Minister for the Environment, the smell has two sources, both at Pitsea tip. He says: Work to prevent the escape of landfill gas from one of the two sources of odour has already begun. The Environment Agency has required that this odour source be abated within three months and it is expected that this will be completed within that time."—[Official Report, 20 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 684.] He also says that the second and most prominent source of odour has also been attacked, but that a number of additional measures are also being considered and implemented for that source.

It is just not good enough to say that three months are needed to clear up the enormous problem caused by the first source, as the smell has been around since February this year and has been recurring year on year. We have known about the problem for at least 10 years, and it is intolerable that proper action is not being taken now. Much too little is being done much too late.

I am more concerned about the Minister for the Environment's response on the second, more important source, as he implies that, as yet, no solution has been found and says that additional measures are being implemented. We need to know what measures, when they will be implemented and whether the solution will be sustainable so that the smell does not recur next spring.

In another written answer to my representations, the Minister for the Environment says: The Environment Agency has acted to ensure that more robust procedures are put in place to monitor for odours more actively at Pitsea landfill site. This will enable such odours to be detected and dealt with promptly."—[Official Report, 20 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 684.] What a laugh! I asked for that 10 years ago and I did so again a year ago—nothing has been done. Again, the Government have done too little, too late; they seem to have stopped listening. In yet another answer to one of my questions, the Minister for the Environment said: Research into the health effects of the landfill gas is currently being undertaken by the Environment Agency at the site. The research will look into any health impacts that may have been caused by the odours."—[Official Report, 20 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 684W.] In another answer to one of my questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Health stated: The existence of intermittent bad odours … in the Castle Point area has been known for some time", and that the Primary Care Trust are unaware of any medical evidence that people in the area are clinically affected."—[Official Report, 19 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 602W.]

My constituents want to know who to believe. Is the Environment Minister or the Health Minister right about the health risks? They also want to know who is to be blamed for the health problems that they are suffering. They are reporting to local newspapers and to me a whole range of serious health problems: loss of sleep, nausea, sickness and breathing difficulties. In fact, somebody collapsed and, sadly, died of an asthma attack on Canvey Island a few weeks ago during the height of one of these problems. My constituents are asking me to investigate whether there is a link.

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology pamphlet on the health effects of air pollutants states: Mostly elderly and young people and those with respiratory diseases such as asthma or bronchitis are affected. It says that SO2 causes coughing, tightening of chest, irritation of lungs", NO2 causes irritation and inflammation of lungs", and PM10 causes inflammation of lungs, worsening of symptoms of people with heart and lung conditions, linkage of long-term exposure to coronary heart disease and lung cancer", and goes on to list other air pollutants and their effects on health.

We are talking about serious health problems, and we must have clear, definitive answers for our constituents. The Government must state exactly what is held in and what comes from Pitsea tip. They must say what the possible health consequences are, how and when the problem will be removed once and for all, and who is to blame. The strongest possible legal action must be taken now by the Environment Agency against the perpetrators to bring the matter to the earliest possible sustainable resolution.

The Secretary of State for Education has totally botched the new funding system—yet another display of this Government's spectacular incompetence. We must stop the political buck-passing. When it suited him, the Prime Minister said that education was his priority—"Education, education, education." Now we have redundancy, redundancy, redundancy—3,000 of them are predicted in The Times today. Now, the Prime Minister does not want to know about education. Let me tell him one thing: the buck stops at No. 10. He is responsible, and he should accept that responsibility and deal with the problem. The Government said that Essex should passport the funds, but Essex dealt with what the Government said in a line-by-line rebuttal. It is the Government's responsibility.

Let me quote from a letter that I received from a headmaster in my constituency:

Heads are having to make difficult, irrevocable decisions, including redundancies and larger classes, and a halt to curricular developments. A local example is that we are unable currently to fund our Summer Literacy School for the first time"—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

A number of hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. If they can be concise with their remarks, I should like to think that all would be successful.

4.58 pm
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

I want to report briefly on a conference that I held in my constituency of Stafford in April on a subject that is of national importance: positive parenting. It is the kind of subject on which much can be done locally and nationally to make a big difference to any society. That is what I want to achieve in ours.

Features of positive parenting include discipline, monitoring, supervision, warmth and affection and being emotionally responsive. Negative features of parenting would include authoritarianism, neglect, conflict and coercion.

We do not say as often as we should that parents do a great job raising their children, often in the face of multiple challenges. In the formative years from before birth until a child starts school, who will influence how new human life will turn out if not parents? That time is so vital in shaping the lives of little citizens, whose brain activity peaks at the age of three.

It is important to recognise that not all parents are birth parents. Death and other tragedies or misfortune may rob children of their parents, which means that grandparents, other relatives, foster carers or adopters bring them up. Social services sometimes have to provide staff to take the place of parents.

Most people who raise children value help and support from their friends and family but studies show that many parents are not aware of the implications of helpful and unhelpful parenting. Even those who are aware are sometimes at a loss to know how they or others can improve things. However, studies show that if parents are given the opportunity to develop their understanding of their babies and children's emotional world and receive help to learn new skills and more helpful ways of relating to their children, the insight changes their attitude and behaviour and improves their health and that of their children.

Parenting starts with the unborn child, and I have emphasised already that the early years are crucial. There are other key times in later childhood when help and support may be beneficial, such as when a child moves up a school, when there are hormonal changes and when children get their first boyfriend or girlfriend.

Education and support is available for parents, but its provision is patchy. There are parent support groups, parenting programmes, sure start initiatives, drop-in centres and helplines—the list goes on. Universal parent education and support services can encourage the spread of helpful parenting from one parent to another, which avoids any social stigma due to parents feeling that they are being singled out as inadequate in some way. I hope that it is obvious to hon. Members that more intensive help and support should be available for families who face greater challenges.

My aim is a public policy under which all parents can get advice and information when they need it and if they want it. Some parents might want to go further by attending parenting programmes or receiving home visits, at which more in-depth help and support may be given. Professionals in all walks of life, such as doctors, nurses, midwives and health visitors, will encounter parents and children who need help. The same mix of universal and targeted services should be accessible when parents and professionals agree that it would be useful.

Unhelpful parenting can lead to harmful outcomes, such as children not learning social skills or feeling emotionally excluded, stupid and incompetent, or frustrated and angry. Long-term consequences for children include: having little attachment to their family and schools; having no good friends; failing in love and having violent and unsatisfying relationships; poor confidence; low qualifications; and a poor work record. In serious cases, the consequences include antisocial and criminal behaviour.

Positive parenting means being warm, affectionate, caring, supportive, emotionally attuned and emotionally literate. It is worth society giving more help and support to parents because it leads to good outcomes for the health and well-being of parents and children, the result of which is stronger families. It is worth it for the savings to society because children who do not settle well into school and have a tendency to be difficult and antisocial go on to cost society 10 times more than the majority who behave in a more usual way.

The Government are willing to help and their good moves include setting up the parents' centre, which is a website that provides information for parents. They established the National Family and Parenting Institute, which is a think-tank for family and parenting issues, and Parentline Plus, which is a free and confidential 24-hour helpline—I must mention the fact that its number is 0808 800 2222. Such services show the Government's commitment. However, it is also important to provide universal services that support parents, because that will save us a lot of money. Universality does not mean that we must spend a lot, just that services are available to everybody who wants them at the level that they want.

Many provisions exist to help parents including Parentline Plus, the NFPI, Government services, health visitors, primary health care services, social services and the voluntary sector. I know of great work by Home-Start, Relate and church groups in my constituency—they are all very helpful. More demanding situations require parenting programmes and home visits from more resource-intensive sources such as health visitors with special skills, child psychologists and senior social workers.

We have to start somewhere, so I suggest that pilot schemes should be established. I volunteer my constituency of Stafford as somewhere to base an early pilot scheme. If the Government give me the money, I shall set up the scheme for them. The Government are soon to publish a Green Paper on children at risk and that could provide a good opportunity to make an announcement. I suggest that parenting is a good way to stop children being at risk in the future.

I shall end with the comments of my friend, Norman Crockett. I was a councillor for 10 years, but he served for 27. We were in the same ward and we sat every Thursday night in a draughty church hall seeing people at our advice surgeries. In our quiet moments, he would always say, "David, if all children in their formative years had the sure and certain knowledge that they were loved and wanted, we would live in a very different world and we could throw away the keys to prisons." The final comment might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I would like to think that Norman, who is now 90 and in a residential home, could see this change in public policy in his long and productive life.

5.5 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

I would like to take a few minutes of the House's time to bring to its attention the plight of a countryman of mine who is currently on death row in Ohio. Kenny Richey, a 39-year-old Scot from Edinburgh, has been on death row since 27 January 1987 when he was convicted of killing a two-year-old girl in a fire. I very much regret that this case does not show the United States criminal justice system in a good light. In particular—this is relevant to the debates in the House on criminal legal aid—it shows the state-funded public defenders office in an especially poor light.

The case also highlights other inadequacies relating to the appellate system in the United States. Whatever the inadequacies there might have been in the trial, new evidence—principally forensic evidence—has been found subsequently, and it raises substantial doubts about the safeness of the conviction. That is not even disputed by the prosecution authorities in Ohio, and Prosecutor Dan Gershutz has said: Even though this new evidence may establish Mr. Richey's innocence, the Ohio and United States constitution nonetheless allow him to be executed because the prosecution did not know that the scientific testimony offered at the trial was false and unreliable. I regard that rigid and procedural attitude to justice to be complete anathema. It turns on its head any notion of natural justice.

The events that brought Kenny Richey to his current position started in the early hours of 30 June 1986. A fire started in an upper flat in an apartment building in Ohio and flames rapidly spread and engulfed the flat before firemen were able to extinguish the blaze. Minutes later, the body of a child, Cynthia Collins, was carried out. The mother's position was that Cynthia's babysitting was to have been carried out by Kenny Richey, but his position has always been that he was too drunk to do any such thing and that he never made any such agreement. It also transpired that there is evidence that, when the mother of the child arrived at the hospital, she told the doctor that the child had set fires in that flat on previous occasions. That was known to the prosecution at the time, but the information was never imparted to the defence. As a former procurator fiscal depute in Scotland, I must say that an attitude that does not compel the prosecution to give to the defence every single aspect of information that could be of use is repugnant. Again, that is anathema to me.

Just about everything that could wrong with Kenny Richey's case, its investigation and prosecution did go wrong. Right at the start, the local fire chief decided that it was an accidental fire and, accordingly, all the furnishings and, vitally, the carpet were removed from the flat. It was decided only later that the case should be the subject of a criminal investigation, and the stuff was recovered from the dump to which it had been taken. Ironically, it was then stored next to a petrol station.

It also transpired that the prosecutor in charge of the case at that time was running for judge. He was dealing with the first capital case in Putnam county since the 1800s and, not surprisingly in these circumstances, the case against Kenny Richey dominated the local news for months. That obviously brought with it concomitant publicity for Prosecutor Basinger. He was eventually elected to judge, and a major plank of his campaign made it clear that he would be seeking the death penalty in the Kenny Richey case. In the election, the prosecutor promptly offered a plea bargain, indicating that if Kenny Richey would plead guilty to second-degree murder, he would receive a sentence of 10 years with the possibility of parole after six years. Not surprisingly, that offer was refused, so the case was sent to trial.

There were a number of difficulties, not least the fact that the lawyer of the public defenders' office who was assigned to Kenny's case was somewhat green. He seemed not to take a great deal of care in the preparation of his case. He did not avail to Kenny the many opportunities that should have been made available to him. To take one example at random, he did not, incredibly, hire a fire expert to give evidence. Instead, he took in someone who was an expert in metal fatigue. He never challenged the state's report or carried out his own examination of the scene or the evidence. I understand that he advised Kenny Richey not to testify. Not surprisingly, Kenny Richey was convicted.

There were forensic questions that should have been asked but were not. Not least, if, as it was claimed, paint thinner and petrol had been sprayed about the flat, why was none found on the clothes of Kenny Richey when they were forensically examined?

There is much that I could say about the case. However, I am mindful of the number of Members who wish to participate in the debate. I leave the last word with Kenny Richey, who said: I want the opportunity to prove my innocence. I want a fair trial, and I'm not going to give up until I get it or they kill me. In these circumstances, I very much hope that given that we are dealing with a Scottish citizen, the Foreign Office might in time be able to render some assistance.

5.11 pm
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

It is the second occasion this afternoon that I shall begin my contribution in your presence with a procedural point, Madam Deputy Speaker. There must be a better way to conduct Adjournment debates on recesses. Colleagues who have sat in the Chamber throughout the afternoon have been cutting down their 10 minute speeches to nine, eight, seven or six minutes. [Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will have a positive contribution to make when he replies on behalf of the Opposition. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will also respond to my specific point. There is no reason why we cannot have a list of speakers who are allocated 10 minutes, or even why the day cannot be extended to ensure that a given number of Members get in.

I was going to talk at some length about the difficult and complex issue of Iraq. However, I feel that now that time has been compressed, I would rather talk about something a little closer to home.

I was at a helpful and educational meeting in the House the other evening about citizenship, and the fact that citizenship is increasingly appearing on the school curriculum. The issues included how young people connect with wider society and how we end the alienation from and the lack of participation in civic society. That is all very commendable. However, in the context of my constituency, which consists of eight large working-class estates within which there is extremely low educational attainment, even citizenship, as a concept, would go over the heads of most of the young people. Many of them do not have even the basic emotional and intellectual tools to make the best of their education at school, let alone to consider the slightly more esoteric realms of civics and how to participate in democracy.

Often, those young people are unable to take part in educational opportunities because of the way that they are raised at home. I hope that all Members received from one of their parents, or both, the sort of background—the understanding and the emotional currency, as it were—to engage in the exchange of ideas and to develop themselves personally and emotionally. That enabled them to take part in education and social activities, and then to develop because of all the opportunities that existed around them.

I was about to refer to bad parenting, but that implies that on occasions parents are acting deliberately to the disadvantage of their children. However, the cost of ignorant parenting is extremely high, not only because the child cannot make the best of himself at school, but because when some children go wrong, the result is exclusions and contact with the social services. There may be an element of criminality. That may lead to the involvement of counsellors, Members, housing officers and police officers. All of us pick up the pieces when the basic family environment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) described so eloquently, does not exist.

I do not wish to be cast as big brother, but where that basic human element of parenting is not present, somebody has to pick up the pieces, and the earlier we do that, the better. The earlier we intervene to ensure that young people can make the best of their lives and the best of everything that society has to offer, the cheaper it will be in terms of the expensive resources and person-power needed to get them back on the straight and narrow. It may take many years. It may be after a lifetime of drug addiction, criminality or missed opportunity. If we can get to those young people early, if—as in the case of many of my constituents—we can support and underpin them pre-school and even at school, we will do them a favour, and we will also do ourselves a big favour, because of the benefits that can accrue to society.

We can talk about the big picture, but I shall give an example. At one of the secondary schools in my constituency, 20 per cent. of the kids are on the at-risk register. Six young girls at that school were raped at home last year. In such circumstances, we have a duty to intervene, to help, to develop and to make better. That is one of the most ardent and certain duties that hon. Members should feel.

Where do we go from here? One of the key requirements is to ensure that we develop and broaden the teaching of citizenship, which is now a compulsory subject in the national curriculum, and give every young person the ability to be a good parent. My goodness, what an investment that would be, and what a money saver, were we to underpin our young people, not necessarily to change their parents, but so that when they mature and have children of their own—often far too early—they have the social and human skills to pass on to their children, as every parent would want in the rational world.

I hope very much that the issue is taken seriously. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford for raising it in the debate. It is an issue of the greatest importance in social policy, but in all our desire to deliver on public services it often gets forgotten. It is an essential part of the national curriculum and is far more important than any academic subject, as it is the key to attainment not only in academic subjects, but in life itself.

5.18 pm
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

First, I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). There must be a better way of organising debates such as this. I hope that the Modernisation Committee will consider the timetabling of these debates.

I intended to speak on a complex issue and present a number of quotes. Mindful of time, I will not try to do that now. I hope to raise the issue at a later date. Instead, I shall briefly bring to the attention of the House the proposals of the university of Plymouth announced last November for the closure of Seale Hayne college in my constituency; the closure of the arts college in Exeter, the constituency of the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office; and the closure of the arts college in Exmouth, in the constituency of the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire).

The consultation period allowed by the university for such a dramatic change was one month. I do not believe that one month's notice of the closure of a college is adequate. I do not believe that that is enough time for people to collect their thoughts and suggest alternatives to the governors. The university has acted in a disgraceful manner in claiming that there was a consultation process. It was a farce. I had a meeting with the deputy vice-chancellor, Peter Evans, shortly after the announcement was made. I asked him what was going to be done with the Seale Hayne campus. At that time, he did not know. He said that there would perhaps be a conference centre there. Those involved had not thought the matter through very far.

I must congratulate the National Farmers Union, the Country Land and Business Association, the south-west chamber for rural enterprise and others who have been part of a group considering alternative uses for the site. They have now come up with positive proposals for a centre of rural excellence, but the heart of the college, undergraduate education, will still be lost.

I shall give one quote. The college was established at the bequest of an hon. Member of this House, Charles Seale Hayne, who wrote in his will that his money should be used after his death to endow a College for the promotion of technical education of Artizans and others without distinction of creed primarily and especially with reference to the Manufactures industries and products of the County of Devon such college to be established in the neighbourhood of Newton Abbot. That will and covenant, and the trust that was placed, has been destroyed by the removal of undergraduate education. I hope that the college will reconsider its proposals and look at how it can provide undergraduate education on that site.

The vice-chancellor, Professor Roland Levinsky, was not available to talk to anyone immediately after making the announcement, as he was away. Eventually, after some time, he agreed to meet me when another case arose in which students were suspended from the college. I hasten to add that they were suspended in relation to a magazine that they had issued. They were guilty of an injudicious use of words and I do not support what they said, but they were suspended for more than a month while their case was heard. Two students were suspended for a month on the basis of a fairly minor incident, but the entire community of Newton Abbot and all the students have only a month to make representations about the future of the college. I used the word "disgrace", and I emphasise that that is what it is.

I asked Professor Levinsky what studies had been done on saving and keeping undergraduate education. He could not answer that question. All he would talk about was the new plans for the big new university in Plymouth and academics coming together and being cuddly together, as well as making some other comments, which I shall save for another debate. What he could not answer was the question whether those involved had looked into how the college could be saved or how they could bring in more foreign students. He could not say why the college, as an agricultural and rural affairs college, had no presence at all the county shows to encourage students to go there. Remarkably, it was at the Devon county show last week; I do not remember it being there the year before.

I appreciate that time is short, so I shall leave my comments at that, in the hope that I will be able to debate the matter fully at a later date.

5.23 pm
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)

Like the last few speakers, I shall apply the self-denying ordinance and cut down dramatically what I had intended to say. I am sure that that will be a blessed relief to most of the hon. Members who are now gathering in the Chamber, who will have come back in anticipation of the winding-up speeches rather than the last few Back-Bench speeches.

I wish to spend a moment or two speaking about Stansted airport and its proposed expansion. The consultation period is running to a close and will expire at the end of next month. There are a number of vital issues, and they can fairly rapidly be put before the House.

Stansted itself lies in the parliamentary division of the Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). My parliamentary division is some 10 miles distant, but a number of its villages are close to the area that would be severely affected if the expansion went ahead.

One can summarise very quickly the difficulties that would arise if one, two or three extra runways were built, depending on the final number that would be settled on if the worst occurred. With any number of runways, the first thing that would occur is an increase in flight traffic and the noise and other pollutions that flow from aircraft travel.

In some ways, aircraft travel is the smallest part of the problem. The motorised travel that follows on the back of it creates enormous environmental burdens for people living in the area. Not only will there be 25 million, 50 million or 60 million extra passengers—or whatever figure the planners have in mind—but there will be an almost unimaginable number of extra vehicles on the road system. Some people argue that the airport will bring extra jobs, but houses in picturesque and historic villages are not property that baggage handlers and other airport workers are likely to inspect, let alone be able to afford. Those houses will go to people commuting to Cambridge, London, Chelmsford or further afield. The extra houses that will be built will be of no benefit whatsoever to the local community. Expansion will impinge on a countryside that, although it may lack the grandeur of the Scottish highlands or the romanticism of Dartmoor, is gentle rolling hill country with streams and woods—in many ways, it is an idealised picture of the way England once was. Within that countryside there are villages, historic houses and communities, all of which would go if airport expansion took place.

We need to consider other issues. How do we deal with the airport problem if in fact somebody does not have to take a decision? I see that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who represents an area that would be affected by Heathrow expansion, is in the Chamber. I cannot see anyone from an area that would be affected by expansion at Gatwick. However, they would make a case similar to the one that I am making. There is a legal maxim that equality is equity. If we are to deal with the problem of airport expansion, the load must be spread as widely as possible and as far north as possible so that parts of the country that need regeneration can benefit, rather than the overheated economy which the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) and I believe exists in our county.

I shall conclude with some observations on the expansion of Stansted airport: I stood at numerous vantage points around and within the safeguarded area"— the area outside the present boundaries— and visualised the utter devastation which development would wreak on this virtually unspoiled and particularly attractive tract of typical Essex countryside …. It would constitute an environmental invasion on a scale without precedent in the history of the UK …. I am convinced that such a monster cannot and must not be inflicted on this precious landscape". Those are not my words or the words of a Stansted protester—they are the words of Mr. Graham Eyre QC, the Government-appointed inspector in the Stansted inquiry of the 1980s. I shall say nothing more, and shall simply rely on the words of the Government's own inspector as the answer to Stansted's expansion.

5.28 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

I am delighted to speak in this traditional and amiably pointless debate. It is reassuring to see the usual suspects in their places. They are a fairly eclectic group—there are supporters of good causes, espousers of lost causes, local press release junkies, sad whingers and, of course, the mad professor types. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which one are you?"] In my time, I have been in all those categories. I wish to raise two particular issues this afternoon. First, I shall speak in my capacity as a former world statesman, now fallen on hard times, and talk about the Olympic games. Secondly, I shall speak as a mad professor type.

There will be opportunities to discuss the Olympic games in future. I am delighted that the Government have announced that they will support the London bid. I have an interest to declare in that if we are successful, much of the site will be in my constituency of West Ham in the east end, and we will enjoy a legacy there. We will get the legacy of the Olympic village, which will provide good social housing in the area, and an Olympic stadium, which, I trust, will be the home of West Ham United football club, or of Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal: clearly, it must be a football legacy. The legacy of facilities is important and must be taken into account.

The only other comment that I would make on the games is that it is easy for everyone to cheer us on now, but when difficulties are encountered—as they will be, given that every bidding city has experienced them—sI hope that those who came along to the champagne receptions will stay with us. Alas, I fear that they will not, particularly the press, who will of course immediately start to blame the Government, and everyone except themselves, for the fact that we ever entered a bid in the first place. That is sad, but we need to bear it in mind. We are up against very stiff competition in the shape of Paris, where the Government take a much more direct and hands-on approach towards such big sporting occasions. Our Government—understandably, given that the dome and Picketts Lock are still around to haunt them—perhaps feel that they can take a more hands-off approach. Unfortunately, that will not work, because when difficulties are encountered, they will undoubtedly be blamed. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will keep a close watch on the issue. Let us hope that we are successful in our bid, because it would be great for sport, great for the country, great for London and particularly great for the area that I am privileged to represent.

Right hon. and hon. Members can easily read about my second point, which I raise in my mad professor role, if they turn to early-day motion 1252. For some time, I have advocated the establishment of a mandatory national register of DNA. It is about time we seriously considered that. It would be of enormous benefit in terms of crime detection and deterrence, and a valuable aid in identifying people who have been involved in catastrophes such as the twin towers. It is sad to have to mention such things, but we live in an increasingly dangerous world, with the continuing possibility of terrorist attacks. To those who say that it is an intrusion into civil liberties, one has to reply that the greatest civil liberty of all is the ability to live in peace and safety in our own countries and communities. A national DNA register would assist us in doing that. The process is non-invasive—it simply involves swabbing in the mouth. Of course, we already have a significant DNA register, but it does not extend to us all. Perhaps, as Members of Parliament, we should all volunteer our DNA to a register. Certainly for babies, it could be done at the same time as the registration of the birth.

I hope that Members will not see this as further evidence of my lurch to the right, but will realise that in a world that is more dangerous and where people move around far more freely than they ever have in the past, a system that would enable us to keep track, in a benign way, of all our citizens at home and abroad, would be of great advantage to the country.

5.33 pm
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North)

I want to say a few words about two matters, the first of which is the apparent resurgence in the past couple of days of international Islamist terrorism. We must be thankful, of course, that in the past year there have been no acts of Islamic terrorism in this country, although we are designated a special target. Writing in The Times earlier this week, Amir Taheri pointed out that acts of international terrorism have in fact declined, but rightly said that we cannot be complacent. We have taken effective action in several areas, and must continue to do so. The international Islamic terrorists have lost bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The article mentions terrorist finance. I want to ask the Treasury about two aspects of that.

We have introduced effective laws for financial institutions and their disclosure obligations and we have also frozen considerable amounts of terrorist finance. However, there is a need for international co-operation and there are gaps in international controls on terrorist financing. Last year, Ukraine and Nauru were on the black list because they did not have effective controls on money laundering and terrorist financing. There is also the problem of the alternative remittance systems; the hawala money transmission systems. We have brought those into the regulatory net, but even in the International Monetary Fund there is doubt about whether we can ever effectively control payment through those systems. I should therefore like an assessment of the effectiveness of the controls that we introduced last year.

I turn to consider Iraq and our responsibilities there. Under the Hague convention of 1907 and the Geneva conventions of 1949, we are an occupying power. That means that, first, commanding officers of our armed forces are charged with the duty of maintaining peace and order, punishing crime, and protecting lives and property in the area of their command. An issue arose about United States forces and the protection of the national museum and national library. I do not have time to go into that and whether effective steps were taken. However, I note that several items have come back to the national museum under an amnesty. The draft United Nations Security Council resolution, which, I hope, will be passed this afternoon, imposes an obligation on all member states to take effective action to ensure the return of objects looted from the national museum and the national library. They will have to have laws to prohibit the trade or transfer of suspected items.

Secondly, we have responsibilities for the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war. In the past day or so, there have been press reports about an investigation into claims that a British Army officer has mistreated civilians and prisoners of war. I am sure that the Army's special investigations branch will scrupulously pursue those allegations. However, it is plain under the Geneva conventions that an occupying power has an obligation to prevent violence to life and person and the humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners of war and civilians.

Thirdly, there is a general prohibition on transferring civilians out of occupied territories. Prisoners of war and their civilian commanders can be transferred for trial for war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity, but the transfer of persons to places such as Guantanamo bay, if they are detained without trial, is wrong. I raised that matter and the detention of Britons who were captured in Afghanistan in the Easter Adjournment debate. In a recent written answer, the Foreign Office said that the Government were pressing the United States at senior levels to resolve the position of the British detainees. I can only urge the Government to keep on pressing.

Fourthly, there has been some discussion about the legality of rebuilding Iraq without a UN Security Council resolution. I hope that such a resolution will be passed later this afternoon. The accusation that our actions in the past five weeks have been in breach of international law is misconceived. Under the Hague convention and the Geneva conventions, an occupying power is precluded from annexing territory and appropriating assets. It must respect and maintain existing institutions. However, there must be qualifications. For example, there can be no obligation on an occupying power to respect and maintain all the institutions and laws of a dictatorship.

We can have political arguments about the role of the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq. The draft resolution adopts a different approach from that in Kosovo and Afghanistan. However, it is important to note that in the draft resolution, the UN will play a vital role in humanitarian relief, Iraq's reconstruction and the restoration of institutions of representative government. To that end, the draft requests the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative. Paragraph 9 of the draft resolution underlines the important role of the special representative in rebuilding the political institutions of Iraq. The Secretary-General will also appoint someone to sit on the international advisory and monitoring board of the development fund for Iraq, which will be subject to international auditing. To my mind, therefore, there is clear transparency of the fund.

I also wanted to discuss the obscene levels of executive pay and the measures needed to control them. I was very attracted by the Bill introduced earlier this year by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is about to introduce a discussion document on the subject. I very much look forward to hearing what she has to say.

5.40 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Madam Deputy Speaker, you know that I am a great believer in convention in this House, but I am inclined on this occasion to break our conventions almost gratuitously. Today, the Minister and I agreed very readily that we would reduce the amount of time that we would require for summing up so as to allow more Members to make contributions. I am happy to say that that has worked, although Members have had to cut their contributions dramatically. The effect of this will be clear to all, however. We have heard more than 20 contributions in the debate, and by my reckoning they have covered well over 16 very different subjects. Frankly, for me to attempt to sum that up on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition in any meaningful way in 10 minutes is faintly absurd. I am therefore not going to attempt to do so.

Part of the problem was touched on in a peevish comment by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who then beetled off and is sadly even now not in his place. I blame the modernisers for this problem, because it is those folk who insisted on leaving at 6 o'clock on a Thursday. In the good old days, we would have been here until 10 o'clock, and all the Members who wanted to speak would have had all the time in the world. But this insistence by the modernisers that we must cut our hours and work so-called civilised hours has brought us to where we are now.

Now we have to make a choice: either all Members get to say something, although some have had to cut their remarks to an almost ludicrous extent, or the summing up cannot be in any way meaningful. I extend my sympathy to the Minister in this regard; he will find himself in exactly the same position. He will do his best, of course, but Members want a meaningful Government response. I know that that is what they want; they do not particularly want one from me. Nevertheless, I am going to stay on my feet for a few minutes; that is all that I have left. Members want some response from the Minister and he simply will not be able to do justice to their contributions. We have a dilemma, and I hope that the powers that be on the Procedure Committee, the Modernisation Committee or whatever will turn their thoughts to it. Otherwise, this process will become less and less meaningful in parliamentary terms.

Having said that, the debate has ranged across subjects as varied as Cyprus, the United Nations, asylum, the elderly, antisocial behaviour, public service failure, Northern Ireland elections, cystic fibrosis, deep vein thrombosis, the Welsh Assembly, odours, parenting, the US judicial system, the closure of colleges, Stansted airport, the Olympics and DNA. That gives some idea of the breadth of the interests that Members have. It is interesting to note that, by my reckoning, the subjects were split roughly half and half between constituency concerns and more general issues. That is an interesting comment on the choice that Members make in using the time available to them in these Adjournment debates.

The contributions highlighted various difficulties. For example, there were several speeches about Cyprus. The hon. Members for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) both mentioned it, as did one or two others. They were saying, "Why can't these people get together, be sensible and put aside their differences in order that they may all prosper together?" That is not an unreasonable prospect.

I welcome back to the Chamber the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, who is staying as late as 6 o'clock to hear the conclusion of the debate. He can read what I said earlier in Hansard, and he will not like a word of it.

Mr. Allen

The House is so modern that I had the great pleasure of hearing the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks on the television in my office. I have hurried down to the Chamber to tell him that the reason that we finish at 6 o'clock is because of the clowning around involved when he used to take the House through into the early hours of the night. I congratulate him on that.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for doing us the honour of returning. I am not sure whether I approve of him scuttling off to his office and watching the proceedings on television while pretending that he was here taking part in them. That is another development that I deplore and wish that we could get rid of. I would personally disconnect all the televisions in the offices and have Members here in the Chamber, but then, I am an old-fashioned sort of guy.

I was talking about Cyprus. I wanted to make a distinction between Cyprus and Northern Ireland, as some Members touched on the subject of Northern Ireland. This is the irony. Members plead, not unreasonably, for reconciliation in Cyprus and for people with different attitudes, cultures and traditions to come together and see things in a similar way. This afternoon, we heard about our own problem in Northern Ireland—a problem that we have not been able to solve after several hundred years of difficulty, and one that is very similar in essence to the Cyprus problem. In a single debate, in one afternoon, two very different subjects have overlapped, and illustrated the same problem in different ways.

Many Members illustrated the difficulties faced by any Government, not least this one. The hon. Member for Ilford, North, as a good, loyal Back Bencher, praised the Government. I hope that she gets a job in the reshuffle that may well take place tomorrow. She had better sit by her telephone. She then said, however, that there was not enough money for Crossrail or for other things in her constituency, thus neatly illustrating the difficulty that the Minister will experience in trying to placate colleagues who, having praised their Government for what they believe is good, nearly always add "but on the other hand"—and then proceed to make what is usually a not unreasonable demand. Such are the difficulties and dilemmas of government.

I have got all that off my chest, and I have not even attempted to reply to the debate for reasons that I have already given. I shall now sit down and leave the Minister a little extra time in which to please his colleagues and at least do some honour to the traditions of these debates.

5.46 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was courteous to give me a little more time than I expected. As a BBC radio journalist, I was disciplined to try and tell a story in 40 seconds, and I have never quite understood why the difference between 10 and eight minutes is so crucial to Members trying to get their points across in speeches. The fact that Members have made very good speeches today in six, seven or eight minutes shows that it is possible.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is difficult for me as the Minister to do justice to all the points raised in the time remaining. I hope that hon. Members will accept today, as they have in the past, that if I fail to deal with all their concerns here and now I will write to them, or encourage those in the Departments to which those concerns are really directed to do so.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, we have enjoyed references to the usual rich variety of topics in this traditional pre-recess Adjournment debate, from odours in Castle Point—about which the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) rightly kicked up a stink—to the situation in Cyprus, raised by a number of my hon. Friends including my hon. Friends the Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox), for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) and for Ilford, North (Linda Perham). I will certainly draw their remarks to the Foreign Secretary's attention at this critical juncture for the future of Cyprus. I hope that I can reassure them by saying that the Government believe that a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus on the basis of the United Nations plan is in Turkey's interests. We regularly make that clear to the Turkish Government.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) spoke about our procedures and the accountability of Government in this place. I am ashamed to say that I have not yet had a chance to read the whole of the work produced by Parliament First, the group of which he is a member, although I have read press reports about it. I look forward to nothing more than spending part of the Whitsun recess back in Devon having a proper look at it.

I do not entirely agree with all the points made by the hon. Gentleman. He was an ardent supporter of the modernisation package for which the House voted in October, and which was opposed by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that in many ways it has improved Government scrutiny. Questions have become much more topical, and we have introduced much more pre-legislative scrutiny. Bills are now published in draft. We have also introduced crosscutting questions in Westminster Hall: questions were asked this afternoon on drugs. In many ways, it was a little unfair of him to suggest that there was less scrutiny of Government.

The current Prime Minister has become the first to subject himself to questioning by the Liaison Committee, which consists of the male and female Chairmen of all the Select Committees.

In the run-up to the conflict with Iraq, this Government became the first to allow a full debate and vote on such an issue on a Government motion. Many commentators have not allowed the significance of that precedent to sink in—a precedent that will make it extremely difficult for future Governments to commit British forces to armed conflict abroad without seeking similar parliamentary support. I hope that the hon. Member for North Cornwall therefore accepts that there have been some improvements in terms of what he seeks.

I will have another look at the issue of the Speaker's list, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). I understand that the Procedure Committee discussed it, but I shall reexamine it and consider whether there is a way forward.

Several Members concentrated on public services. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) discussed the delays, as he sees it, in the building of the new hospital in Bicester, and I will ask the Department of Health to get back to him on that. As usual, the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) painted a picture of absolute disaster in Southend, be it schools, hospitals or law and order. I doubt whether that reflects the reality—I am sure that his constituency is a much nicer place than that.

The comments of the hon. Member for Southend, West were balanced by those of others. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North drew attention to a number of improvements in public services in her constituency. The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), having raised the issue of his local hospital so many times before, seemed to suggest that he has secured its future. I am extremely pleased that that is so, and I suspect that it is partly due to the extra money that the Government are putting into the health service.

I have a difficulty with the attitude of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. He says that enormous challenges remain in the delivery of public services, but how could they be met if we were to adopt the Conservative policy of cutting spending on public services by 20 per cent.? The complaints of hon. Members on both sides of the House about the delivery of public services in their constituencies would become infinitely worse if we did so.

The hon. Member for Teign bridge (Richard Younger-Ross) raised a local issue that I am aware of: the future of Seal Hayne college. I know that he has campaigned hard on behalf of his constituents, and specifically those in Newton Abbot, on its future. If he will give me the detailed questions that he had no time to ask today, I will ensure that he gets answers to them.

Several Members talked about the problem of crime and antisocial behaviour. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) discussed in detail the very good work that is being done to tackle crime in Northern Ireland. He said something very wise when he pointed out that the fear of crime, particularly among older people, is often a bigger problem than crime itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) welcomed a number of Government measures that have had a positive impact in his constituency. He expressed the view of those on both sides of the House when he hoped that the Fireworks Bill, which returns to the House on 13 June, has a successful passage and gets on the statute book. I hope that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst does not use the same wrecking tactics that destroyed a previous Bill on fireworks, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy). Many people throughout the country will be extremely angry and disappointed if we do not get the Fireworks Bill on the statute book.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) suggested that we introduce a mandatory DNA register. That is an interesting idea, and I shall certainly draw it to the attention of Home Office Ministers and ensure that he gets a proper, substantive reply.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) asked some important questions about terrorist finance, and I shall ensure that the Treasury responds to them. He and other Members may be interested to know that while we were having this debate, the United Nations Security Council supported the new resolution by 14 votes to zero. That is a great achievement for British foreign policy, and I am sure that we will receive the support of all Members, given that the international community can now reunite around the redeveloping of Iraq in peace, security and freedom.

That leads me on to the thoughtful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on the future of the United Nations. She made some important points about how we can create an international framework and international institutions that deal effectively with new threats in a changing world, and about the balance that needs to be struck between the traditional sanctity given to national sovereignty, and the real concerns that exist about the humanitarian disasters, torture and genocide that can occur within a country's borders. In the past decade or so, the United Nations has not been terribly effective in stopping such things, and I hope that we will give more attention to that important point in future debates in this House.

The hon. Member for Gosport raised the issue of asylum, but his timing is strange when figures published today show a dramatic fall in asylum applications in this country.

Mr. Forth

They are bogus.

Mr. Bradshaw

The right hon. Gentleman says that they are bogus. He may have heard the Home Secretary on the "Today" programme this morning, challenging anyone who says that. He made it clear that, outside the House, he would call that person a liar. If they wanted to, they could sue him. The figures are not bogus, but good and reliable, and they should be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is hypocritical of Conservative Members to moan on about asylum and then oppose measures because they affect their constituencies that would make the asylum system more effective. That seemed to be the attitude of the hon. Member for Gosport in opposing a secure centre in or near his constituency.

Speeches were made about the general repercussions of devolution. The hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) spoke about Northern Ireland, where devolution is temporarily suspended. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) spoke about Wales, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas).

Several hon. Members chose highly specific subjects. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) spoke about cystic fibrosis sufferers and their inability to secure drugs on prescription. I have personally written to the relevant Health Minister on that subject and would be happy to secure a substantive response from him. The hon. Member for Southend, West raised similar issues about rheumatoid arthritis. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) expressed the justifiable concern of his constituents about any expansion of Stansted airport. In doing so, he showed what an excellent constituency MP he is.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) revealed himself, not for the first time, as a great champion of London's Olympic bid, and I am sure that he will continue to fight to ensure that the bid is successful. The whole House will wish him well in that campaign.

My hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and for Nottingham, North made thoughtful speeches about the importance of good parenting in tackling antisocial behaviour and other social problems for which bad parenting may be responsible. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North made some important points about how to engage young people in some of our most challenging communities.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) spoke about the case of Kenny Ritchie, which I heard about at length in a recent radio programme. It is indeed a worrying case and I will draw his comments to the attention of the Foreign Office, to see whether it can do any more to help his constituent on death row in the United States.

As we prepare to head off for the Whitsun recess, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) painted a terrifying picture of the perils of flying. He should be congratulated on his campaign to make airline companies liable for the health of passengers. I suggest to him and the House that that is all the more reason for hon. Members and members of the public outside who may not have decided what to do with any free time over the next few days to spend it in the United Kingdom—holidaying here rather than spending their money abroad.

Finally, that brings me to a regular theme in recess Adjournments—various invitations by hon. Members to experience the delights of their own constituencies. The hon. Member for North Cornwall drew our attention to the beauty of his county and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East surprised me—I have to say—by painting a very attractive picture of West Bromwich. The Times journalist, Mr. Andrew Pierce, whom he had a go at, must have been unkind about the area in a recent article. I hope that Mr. Pierce will take up my hon. Friend's offer to visit West Bromwich during the Whitsun recess and experience some of the delights that he described. I hope that he will not be insulted to discover that I intend to spend the recess in Exeter and Devon—the best part of Britain.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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