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Ms Drown: I would expect businesses and families in my constituency to press for the provision of houses for their workers and children, to enable them to settle in the area. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that national planning guidance would restore the balance and reinvigorate the northern towns and cities that he talks about? Is he confident that local people, left to their own devices, would produce the best scheme? Surely the fact that the Government have recently begun pressing for sequential development and the development of brownfield sites will help everybody?

Mr. Francois: I disagree, because it is not true to say that, if all local authorities were left to their own devices, they would simply not allow any houses to be built. I believe that most local councillors, regardless of the party that they represent, are by and large fairly reasonable people. I am sure that they would want some housing development in their local authority areas. They are locally elected and know the areas that they serve, and they are best placed to judge where houses should be sited and—critically—how many should be built. The problem with the current policy is that, by setting arbitrary targets, houses are in effect rammed down people's throats, causing tremendous resentment. Far better to give such power to people who are locally elected, so that they can make a balanced judgment on how many houses each area can take. The Conservative party has a long-standing saying: trust the people. This is a perfect instance in which that principle should be allowed to apply.

Finally, I want to refer to the outcome of the recent Rochford district council local elections. Before 2 May, the council was run by a loose coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent members. I am pleased to report that it is now run by a Conservative administration, with a majority of 17. I offer my congratulations to its new leader, councillor Peter Webster, and I wish him and all his councillors the very best for the future. I also pay tribute to the late councillor Sylvia Lemon, the previous chairman of Rochford district council, who tragically passed away just a few weeks before her term of office was due to conclude. Although not a Conservative, she was highly respected by everyone in the area. She was a very special lady indeed, and we shall all miss her greatly.

I end by offering my best wishes to Robin Allen, an independent councillor who is Sylvia Lemon's successor as chairman of Rochford district council, and who did a great deal to support Sylvia during her term of office. I wish councillor Allen and his wife Helen the very best for the year ahead.

12.1 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): As has been said, today's debate feels a little like the last day of a school term, but I cannot help wondering where the rest of the pupils are. There seem to be few of us here today.

The debate offers a good opportunity to raise constituency issues, and other matters that are not discussed sufficiently in this House. I could mention many

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matters that we should perhaps discuss, although I realise that time is limited. For example, we do not give enough time to certain social issues. On Radio 4 this morning, the subject of ambulance chasers was discussed. Reference was made to companies leafleting areas surrounding schools to find out whether anyone wanted to sue a school because their child had fallen over in the playground. That shows how our society is becoming increasingly prone to approaching the lawyer first. The attitude is, "I have hurt my little finger; can I sue someone?" We need to consider introducing legislation to control that development. Despite the existence of no-fault insurance, the matter still gives cause for concern, particularly in respect of hospitals. It is sad to note that time and resources are being spent on defending cases that should not go to court.

Reference was also made on the radio this morning to an American footballer who tried to sue his coach for dropping him from the team. I point that out not to give Mr. Keane, who has been sent home, any ideas, but because the situation is getting ridiculous. We have talked a lot about football, and wished England all the best. Had he still been in his place, I would have pointed out to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) that I suspect that Senegal will be beaten by a French side that is in effect the Arsenal team, albeit with a captain who is the Chelsea captain.

I turn to an issue that was brought to my attention by Teignbridge youth council. I recommend that those hon. Members with youth councils or youth parliaments in their constituencies visit and talk to them. They are a valuable source of information, and a good way of learning about the concerns of young people, which are not heard and represented as much as they should be. I was impressed by several of the issues that it raised, but it asked me to raise one in particular—teenage self-harm. I hope that the Government will take the debate on this, and several of the issues raised today, further.

The Samaritans have done much to raise the issue of teenage self-harm in recent years, including publishing a document called "Youth Matters 2000: A Cry for Help" two years ago. It said that 43 per cent. of the population knew someone who had committed self-harm. My youth council took a poll of the youth councillors and it found, frighteningly, that 55 per cent. of them knew someone who had committed self-harm. Those councillors come from different schools, so it is not a question of them all knowing the same person who does it. That small group of people can identify three, four or five people in different schools who have committed some form of self-harm.

By coincidence, after I had committed myself to raising the issue in the debate today if I was lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye—which I am grateful to have done—The Observer carried an interesting and insightful article on it last weekend. Nicci Gerrard summed up self-harm in her opening paragraph, saying:

That image helps us to understand what we are talking about—young girls and boys, and some older people, cut themselves with knives, or abuse their bodies in other ways.

The issue is getting an airing. Lisa from "Hollyoaks" is cutting herself; the teenage magazine "Mizz" recently had a feature on a girl who cuts herself; and a book by Emma

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Forrest, called "Think Skin", features a film star who cuts her arms and legs. As Nicci Gerrard says in the article, self-harm has

As the Samaritans pointed out, nearly half the population knows someone who has self-harmed. It is clearly a cry for help that is not being heard. It is an increasing trend. To those who ask why we should be concerned about a few cuts, the Samaritans point out that people who self-harm are at 100 times greater risk of committing suicide than the rest of the population. Youth suicide is a growing problem in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. In 1998, twice as many men aged between 25 and 34 committed suicide as in 1983. For young women in the same age range, the suicide level is higher than it has ever been. For young women aged between 15 and 24, the rate has increased by 15 per cent. We need to address that problem.

In 1998, the Samaritans estimated that 160,000 patients were admitted to accident and emergency units in hospitals for self-harm, some 24,000 of whom were aged between 15 and 19. That means that every hour three young people self-harm. By the time we finish this debate, some 12 young people will have done so.

Ms Drown: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government recently published a consultation document on their suicide strategy. I hope that he will take the opportunity to feed some of his comments into the consultation. Does he agree that attempted suicides need to be considered as part of the problem, because they are evidence of underlying stress and other difficulties that may lead to suicide? We discussed youth facilities and the need to help young people to express their stresses and concerns in other ways earlier.

Richard Younger-Ross: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. Self-harm and attempted suicide are the same issue—it is all to do with self-harm, but some incidents are more extreme than others.

Two thirds of all people who commit self-harm are under 35. The highest rate is among women aged between 15 and 19 and men between 25 and 34. The self-harm rate for men in that age range has doubled in recent years. As the hon. Lady suggested, we need to find out the cause. Why has the rate doubled? People say that men have less emotional support, that there is a stigma attached to men who talk about their feelings. That is true, but it does not explain everything. We must consider the sort of society that we are creating and whether its pressures contribute to stress and strain. It could be pressure of work—because of the work ethic, people tend to work longer hours. Perhaps we have simply become more materialistic and the feeling of failure that some people have is heightened when they see the wealth and apparent success of others. There is a great deal of pressure to succeed.

We can take practical steps with regard to people who harm themselves. All accident and emergency units should have clear details of how to contact the Samaritans posted up. There must be awareness training in the health service for all medical staff who come into contact with those who self-harm. Accident and emergency units and mental health wards must have access to listening support.

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Hospitals cannot provide that support, so they have to go outside. Whether they bring in the Samaritans or other organisations is open to debate. There has to be someone who can listen, because that is a way of helping. Confidential emotional support must be given to medical staff if they take on that listening role.

There must be awareness in schools of the problem. Teachers must be able to say that it is a problem and pupils must be able to recognise when people harm themselves. They must be able to say that someone is hurting themselves. Very often, people will deny that they are harming themselves—they will say that they fell over to explain cuts on the arm, for example. They will say that they burned themselves in the kitchen or cut themselves when making their sandwich, and that it is nothing much. Those are excuses. Any repetition must be recognised; if people are cutting themselves regularly, they are not simply clumsy but causing themselves harm. I hope that this issue can be included in the consultation process and that we can debate it further.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) touched on the time that is given to debate European legislation. I am fortunate to serve on European Standing Committee C. We have met four times in the past year; all debates have been fairly short, all the measures have been non-controversial and have gone through. However, a lot of legislation is generated by the European Union and we do not appear to be taking enough time in this House to consider it. In particular, we are not considering proposals before they become directives. We know the process and what is being debated in the European Union. We should be considering those issues and telling our Members of the European Parliament what the views of this House are. If we are to make an impact and change those European measures, the earlier we begin to scrutinise them the better. The Government's initiative on pre-legislative scrutiny should be extended to EU measures so that we can consider them more fully.

The problem is that when we consider those European directives and other issues in Committee, they often seem to be harmless, common-sense measures, but we rarely get sight of the accompanying rules and interpretation. As the hon. Member for Rayleigh pointed out, the damage is often done by the interpretation of the legislation rather than its intent.

An example from my constituency demonstrates that point in relation to the shellfish hygiene regulations. For hundreds of years, we have extracted mussels and oysters from the River Teign—very good they are, too. A small industry has been built up but it has been almost decimated by the interpretation of European legislation at CEFAS—the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, previously, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

In the UK, we block the extraction of shellfish for 12 months at a time, even though they are perfectly good and edible. In France and Holland, there is a far more sensible approach: when a test fails, extraction stops, but if subsequent tests show that there is no longer any pollution the shellfish can be extracted and sold. It is a stop-go system, but it works. In the UK, on the other hand, a couple of failed tests condemn that area for 12 months. That makes no sense at all. We have allowed civil servants to bury themselves in a pit of rules and they are finding it almost impossible to dig themselves out.

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Before I had the good fortune to be elected a Member, I raised the issue with Graham Watson MEP who arranged a meeting with the then Minister with responsibility for food safety. As promised, there was a review. There were visits to France and Holland and consultations began, but since then we have heard nothing. In my constituency, people want to extract those excellent Teign oysters and mussels and make a living by selling them. They are being denied that opportunity by bureaucratic heavy-handedness in the interpretation of European legislation.

The hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) spoke about funding for health and social services. That issue is extremely pertinent in the south-west, especially in Devon. There are a large number of care homes for the elderly in my constituency, 18 of which have closed during the past year because the county council cannot pay the going rate for the care of the patients. The reason is—bluntly—that the social services department does not receive adequate funds from the Government for the care of children and the elderly.

A report commissioned six months ago by the directors of social services for the 15 local authorities in the south-west noted that social service departments were having to divert money from the care of the elderly to children's care. When I questioned the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), about the matter in January, she said that it was scandalous and that it would be investigated. However, I have seen no sign of an investigation. The Minister has made no further reply and I have heard nothing more.

The Government tell us, however, that they will punish and fine local authorities if they are responsible for bed blocking. I prefer to use the term "bed locking" because it is not the fault of the patient but of the system. However, the cause of the problem is the lack of funds being made available to those social services departments.

The directors of social services estimated six months ago that they needed an additional £1 billion to start undoing that problem. That was nearly a year ago, so that figure will have increased with inflation. Social services departments now have the additional costs of the rise in employers' national insurance, which they have to pay back to the Exchequer, so those costs have increased even further. The Government have given additional funds for social services, but they have not given the money that was requested.

We must debate the issue urgently to ensure that social services departments are better funded, because the elderly and the frail are suffering from lack of funding and the problems that social services departments face. I do not know whether the worse of the problems is an increase in day centre charges or a need to move residents between care homes because the care home owners are obliged to shut up shop, but it is wrong to fine social services departments in those circumstances. If anyone is to be fined, it should be the Treasury, for not listening or putting adequate funding into social services.

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