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5.12 pm

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): My comments will be brief and will address only one local issue—the Finchley Memorial hospital, which I have visited many times.

On Saturday, I attended the 45th annual general meeting of the friends of the Finchley Memorial hospital. They are a seriously good group of friends, extremely ably led by Mrs. Marion Randall, who chaired the meeting. The friends have just secured a new ultrasound scanner, after a funding campaign this year that collected £25,000. Local residents therefore do not have to wait for weeks, as the scanner is on the premises.

Equally impressive is the fact that this small community hospital treated some 24,000 local people in the past year, and all within a few minutes of their arrival. I know that the national health service is under tremendous pressure, but there are many success stories that seem to go unnoticed about health in this country. The latest report of Finchley Memorial indicates that the level of appreciation and satisfaction with treatment there is close to 100 per cent., and that certainly is due to high staff morale, excellent doctors, nurses and other staff and the friendly atmosphere that exists in that community hospital.

Vice-chair Peter Packer has also been a stalwart for many decades and I have enjoyed rattling the collection box with the treasurer of the friends, Jim McLauchlan,

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on several occasions. The shop Homebase has been particularly helpful in allowing that to happen on its premises.

As in many other hospitals, the friends are getting older by the day, and it would be good to attract some younger constituents to assist them. That point was put in a characteristically endearing way by Miss Valerie Chapman, the honorary membership secretary.

Of course, I realise that there are differences between a community hospital with only a minor casualty department run by excellent local general practitioners and larger hospitals that perform the whole range of NHS work. I also accept the need for economies of scale and specialisation. However, it is good to have community hospitals, particularly as their out-patients tend to have to make only short journeys.

A vote of thanks to the officers and committee members of the friends was given by Mrs. Jenny Chung, who looks after the day hospital and sometimes does night duty on the wards.

The senior person with overall responsibility for the hospital is Mr. Anil Sohun, and the friends have an excellent relationship with him. He was also mainly responsible for setting up the mental health ward and the mental health team to look after those patients.

I also much enjoyed the excellent talk given at the AGM by local resident Professor John Hartley, who is professor of cancer studies at University college, London. He is a foremost cancer research expert and the title of his lecture was "An Exciting Time for Cancer Research". I had met Professor Hartley only socially before, so I was much looking forward to his address, and we were not disappointed—he was able to capture his audience about cancer, which is, after all, a frightening disease. In conclusion, he talked about his new love of bringing science and arts together with local artists, and I am looking forward to the exhibition, which will take place soon.

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to convey to the Secretary of State for Health the fact that he will be very welcome to visit Finchley Memorial hospital any day.

5.17 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): I wish to raise several issues before the House adjourns for the Easter recess. First, it is clear that the Government are not in good order. Indeed, they are in complete disarray. Although it might be an illusion at the moment, if the Government Benches were packed we would see a seething mass of discontent. The reason for that is clear: after Labour were elected in 1997, they said, "Yes, we are having some difficulties, but it is all the fault of 18 years of Conservative government." That line used to wear well on the doorstep, but Labour Members find that it no longer does so, as the Government enter their second term in office. The general public are sick to death of the blame culture that comes from Labour Members.

The present situation is dire. Whether in education, law and order, the health service, transport or defence, the Government are in crisis. The Leader of the House may shake his head. [Interruption.] Well, he has a certain way with him. I thought that he was shaking his head. My constituents feel that the Government have made a complete and absolute mess of things.

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Let me start with law and order. The Prime Minister made his name with the cry, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." That has become a sick joke. Just a few weeks ago, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis addressed a conference at which he told everyone that the criminal justice system does not work. What sort of signal does that send to my constituents? The leading police officer made a speech, which he knew would be widely broadcast, telling everyone that the criminal justice system is in disarray.

Some may have thought that the Commissioner's relationship with the Home Secretary was such that that speech would not be made. Of course, we then find out that a conference was hastily arranged at 10 Downing street. After the conference, the same gentleman came out and said, "Yippee! It's the greatest conference we've ever had. We've been listened to and everything will be fixed."

Of course, two weeks ago hon. Members were lobbied by serving police officers. They lined up peacefully outside the Palace of Westminster to express their concerns to Members of Parliament about pay and conditions. It did not seem to me that all was well. The officers were unhappy about how the Government were treating them. In addition, it was announced that people in prison who have committed certain crimes will be released early. If that is the Prime Minister's idea of joined-up Government, God help us. He has been shot out of the ground on law and order issues.

Police launches in Essex are a major concern for my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has also been lobbied on the issue. Leigh-on-Sea town council wrote to me recently to say that there is a proposal to reduce the number of police launches in Essex from two to one. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) lives in Southend, West so he, too, may have been lobbied on that 50 per cent. reduction.

The town council wrote to the chief constable and was not reassured by the reply. It thinks that reducing the number of launches will, in turn, reduce the valuable service provided by the police marine section at a time when criminal damage on and to boats is increasing. In a letter to me, it states:

The line is that there is no reduction, just a reorganisation that has nothing to do with money. However, that claim has been blown out of the water. Essex yacht club wrote to the police and received the following response:

There was no mention of safety: nothing about looking after our constituents or preventing children from getting into difficulty when they play near the estuary. The reduction is the result of a cost-cutting review. I am disgusted, as are my constituents.

My hon. Friends mentioned the Post Office. I listened carefully to yesterday's announcement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. She mentioned the difficulties that Consignia is in. In spite of the huge job

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losses, she explained that the changes were necessary. Time after time, the Government accuse the Conservative party of forgetting what it did when it was in government. However, Labour Members forget how they reacted to job losses when in opposition. Every time a job loss was announced, the Labour Opposition did not say that it was because of the prevailing market or because we had to keep up with technology. Instead, they made the straightforward political hit that it was all the fault of the Conservative Government. The Labour Government have to defend job losses all the time, and it is a bit rich for them to say that such losses are fine because they are in government and they always look after working-class people. As far as I am concerned, the Labour party is out of touch with working-class people, and they have abandoned them the length and breadth of the country.

I am concerned to learn that Southend might lose Parcelforce. I continually receive complaints, not about the postwomen and men, who are wonderful, but about the service overall—the mail arrives late, there is only one delivery a day, and there are all sorts of other problems. Losing Parcelforce would be a huge blow to Southend and my constituents.

I raised the issue of Southend airport at Christmas and I shall do so again today. The Civil Aviation Authority has visited the airport, which has existed for many years, to say that a change must be made to the runway. It suggests that as part of that change St. Laurence and All Saints church, which is 1,000 years old, should be moved. For obvious reasons, the proposal has not gone down well with parishioners, not least because the church is consecrated ground. Although whether one is a Christian is a private matter, the church is dear to local residents, who are extremely upset about the proposal.

The issues surrounding the airport have now grown. The airport has and always has had a licence to operate, but for various reasons the number of commercial flights from the airport has been declining for some time. Now, we learn that there is a body of people who are greatly concerned about the airport itself—in fact, one might think that some of that group were suggesting that the airport should close.

The way in which the issues have become muddied is most unfortunate. A large number of people depend for their livelihood on the jobs that the airport provides, and I hope that the issues triggered by the CAA's requirements for change will be carefully considered. I appeal to the Leader of the House to have a word with the appropriate Minister to see whether the CAA can provide more help.

I commend to the House early-day motion 1021, tabled by the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), who has done the House a service by drawing to its attention the fact that the network card is to be withdrawn. As hon. Members know, that card encourages off-peak travel and makes short journeys far more attractive to non-commuters.

The Association of Train Operating Companies has acted quickly and sent most hon. Members a letter. Some might not yet have had time to read it, but I hope that those who do will not be seduced by it, because a careful reading reveals that it in no way means that what the companies are offering is a substitute for the network

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card. As far as I can see, they definitely plan to get rid of the card altogether and they will offer no discount on short trips in future. Our constituents will be extremely upset about that.

On education, the Government know only too well that it is extremely difficult to recruit and retain teachers. Several local teachers who do supply teaching or who teach for as little as one day a week have brought to my attention the registration fee charged by the General Teaching Council. Hon. Members might think that £23 is not a lot, but I can assure them that some teachers have strong feelings about the fact that they are asked to pay the full fee, rather than a scaled down sum.

I shall not bore the House by going through all the correspondence. The Minister for School Standards, who has been most helpful, has offered to examine the issue. A payment to teachers of £33 is suggested, but it will not be built into the teachers' pay award. In a letter I have here, the GTC admits that it has been overwhelmed by teachers' protests about the fee and says that

It would be helpful if a Minister got onto the General Teaching Council and said, "Look, we've got a problem, but it can easily be fixed."

Finally, on animal welfare, a few weeks ago I had the privilege of introducing a ten-minute Bill which would increase the prison sentence that could be imposed for illegally importing endangered species from two to five years; at the moment, that is not an arrestable offence. I know that not everyone is interested in animal welfare, but all Members were interested in foot and mouth. A number of zoologists and scientists have told me about the dangers that illegally imported exotic animals may pose. For instance, exotic Newcastle disease is a viral disease that affects all species of birds and is probably one of the most infectious diseases among poultry. There are a number of examples across the world where disease spread by an illegally imported bird has led to all the stock over a wide area being culled. When my Bill comes up for Second Reading on 16 April, it would be terribly helpful if there were no shouts of "Object".

In conclusion, I am involved in a charity walk, and am walking down every road, cul-de-sac, footpath and byway in my Southend, West constituency, where there was an election last year. I am doing so to raise money for Fairhaven hospice, the local branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the mayor's charity. If our legs are in good order, it is a good thing to walk. Young people are seduced too easily into thinking that it is all right to get into their car with a mobile phone under their chin; in my constituency, walkers are overwhelmingly elderly people. I hope that Members will reflect on that.

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